Blasted – Footnotes
The obvious origin of the title of the play is the blast of the mortar bomb at the end of scene two that opens “a large hole in one of the walls”, and shatters the naturalistic unities of the play itself. Kane said herself, however, that her first connotation of the word “blasted” was as slang for extreme drunkenness, which of course refers to Ian’s determined alcoholic consumption and state.
Kane also revealed that she had been reading Shakespeare’s King Lear when she was writing the play, and in our conversation Graham pointed out the particular parallel between Gloucester’s and Ian’s blinding, and their both being foiled in their attempted suicide. In general the psychological landscape of all of these characters’ lives is ravaged by violence and trauma, as is the country itself by war. Metaphorically the play is a modern rendition of “the blasted heath” of Lear’s ruined world.
in Ghosts in 2015
Photo: Hugo Glendinning
in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days
Photo: Donald Cooper/Photostage
Sarah Kane explicity cited a number of influences on her writing of Blasted, associating these with specific sections within the play. The first section of the play she said was “very influenced by Ibsen.” With this reference Kane is first acknowledging the social realism of the first part of the play, which is more conventional in form and focusses on a dysfunctional domestic relationship of a sort. In his book Love me or kill me, Graham Saunders makes a further intriguing link with Ibsen between the syphilis that afflicts Dr Rank in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Oswald in Ghosts, and Ian’s terminal lung cancer. As with Ibsen’s characters, Ian’s disease symbolises his moral corruption.
Kane referenced Bertolt Brecht as an influence on the second section of the play, perhaps in the way that she self-consciously explodes the form of the play. More significantly, as we’ve already touched on, she also declared her “deliberate reworkings of King Lear”.
Kane admitted that the third section of the play owed a large debt to Samuel Beckett. She said that she was reading Waiting for Godot at the time that she was writing Blasted, and the sparse language and bleak imagery of the final part of the play are informed by Beckett’s dramatic vision. The image of Ian’s head poking out of the floor with the rain falling through the ceiling on his head echoes several of Beckett’s entrapped characters: Winnie in her mound of earth, Nag and Nel in their dustbins, Hamm in his chair (also blinded). As Graham also points out in his book, there is the same overall sense of the characters being trapped indefinitely in the hotel room, as characters are in the confined spaces of Beckett’s world. Ian and Cate are also trapped in “a relationship of mutual co-dependency” as many of Beckett’s characters are.
I was struck by one other influence that Kane cited. She had also read Bill Buford’s memoir from 1990, Among the Thugs, in which Buford spends time infiltrating gangs of football hooligans. Of course Cate tells Ian that she likes to go the football, to which Ian replies “Didn’t you get stabbed?”. Ian’s own vicious attitudes and behaviour are not unlike the thugs Buford describes in his disturbing study.
Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.
I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.
Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson
Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?
I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.
Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.
Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.
Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …