Review: Blasted, Sheffield Crucible Theatre


Joshua Hackett reviews Blasted at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre, an intense, gritty and gripping production. 

“It’s an hour forty-five, no interval. If you need to leave, we won’t be able to let you back in.”

I nod and take my seat. As the lights die down, director Richard Wilson (yes, that Richard Wilson) laughs from the back row at some unheard joke. On stage, the middle-aged Ian and young Cate enter an unassuming, upmarket hotel room. Barely fifteen minutes hence, Ian undresses in full view of the audience, but if I listed the most graphic moments of Blasted, this scene would barely make the top ten.

The play’s 1995 premiere drew fierce criticism for perceived gratuity; the Daily Mail memorably described it as a “disgusting feast of filth”. Others called for the return of the censor. Built on a crux of war, violence, sex and abuse, Blasted needs virtually every trigger warning. Some conclude that the play (Sarah Kane’s first – she would write five before her suicide at 28) seeks to shock only for the sake of shocking – a problem often seen to afflict the early work of playwrights, eager to show us all how unfair the world is and how bad humans can be.

How does one review a play which parades the worst humanity has to offer over the course of an hour forty-five?

It truly does feel like morals disappear in the space between the audience and the stage. The acting is undeniably strong, but is at its best when characters interact. The rare solo moments are a smidgeon less convincing. Martin Marquez gives a standout performance as foul-mouthed Ian, moving from villain to victim with ease as the play progresses.

Blasted leaves naturalistic theatre behind halfway through. At the play’s close, the hotel room, once pristine and pedestrian, has been utterly transformed into a hellish, expressionist space. It is gnarled and broken, reflecting the minds and bodies of the characters. The technical execution of the play is particularly deserving of praise. One audience member describes it as “technically skilled but repulsive”. Mortar explosions and staged violence feel entirely genuine; with the audience tensing visibly any time a gun is brandished.

Wilson’s production does justice to Sarah Kane’s difficult source material, and is a worthy, timely adaptation of her work. With ISIS, the Ukraine crisis and a dozen other wars and conflicts in full swing, Blasted remains as relevant to the real world as it ever was. This is an intense, uncomfortable production. It will stick to you after you’ve left the theatre, leaves few taboos unscathed and will purge any shred of optimism from your mind.

You will want to look away. Go see it anyway.

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