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.
Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.
Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls was a powerful critique of Thatcherite Britain when it was written in 1982. It’s rightly renowned for its theatrical invention and innovative structure, and remains relevant for its enduring questions about the opportunities, and opportunity costs, for women across the ages. Professor Elaine Aston joins me to survey this modern classic.
It is 1959 and Russ and Bev have sold their 3-bedroom bungalow in the all-white neighbourhood of Clybourne Park in Chicago to a “coloured family”. The sale sparks heated debate between neighbours in Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Clybourne Park. Oliver Kaderbhai, director of the current revival at the Park Theatre in London, joins me to discuss this provocative and corruscatingly funny play.
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 …