The only play I have ever walked out of after a long association with the theatre was Barry Kosky’s King Lear. That play I knew.
In an ABC interview Mr Kosky treated the listening audience to his epigrammatic philosophy of the theatre art: “Anything goes, but not everything works,” he said.
That’s about as artistically hedonistic as it’s possible to get and (if you’ll be patient) we will shortly turn for another perspective to one of the greatest self-confessed hedonists, playwrights and masters of the art of the epigram of all time, Oscar Wilde.
The late Sarah Kane’s Blasted appears to adopt the Kosky mantra. The only reason for suffering out Genre’s opening night of the play at La Boite, after a genuinely tense opening, was to see if it would develop into anything which might be fundamentally associated with the art and craft of playwriting, drama, theatre, exposition, empathy and identification, conflict, resolution, tension, catharsis, revelation, etc. etc. etc.
It did not. After ignition Blasted shook and rattled and hissed and steamed and huffed and puffed and screwed and slewed about on its launch pad for 90 minutes without blasting off, despite the best efforts of its crew and ground control, save in one respect.
Kane had a superb talent for dialogue but regrettably in this piece that’s where her dramatic craft begins and ends. Her slant on the art of the playwright is quoted in the program: “My only responsibility as a writer is to the truth, however unpleasant the truth might be.”
That’s about as artistically presumptuous as it’s possible to get. I’m sure many a master playwright whose talent now lies interred with their bones would ask, “Which fucking ‘truth’ relative to what, Ms Kane?”
And if Ms Kane has happened to meet Mr Wilde on the other side, he may well at this very moment be reminding her, “If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.” (Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young”).
Or of this perhaps: “No great artist sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist.” Or then perhaps, “Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds it to its our purpose.” (The Decay of Lying)
What we find about the “truth” of Blasted is that it offers nothing new in form or content. Antonin Autaud gave us the “Theatre of Cruelty” as early as the 1930s. In the 1960s the dramatic-documentary “War Games” demonstrated how quickly the veneer of civilisation might be stripped away after a limited nuclear strike on Britain and just what people will do to each other when survival’s at stake. In the 1970s “The Skyhooks” rocked us through “Horror Moo-vie Right There on my TV” and we’ve been treated to the footage of the action and atrocities of limited conflicts and ethnic cleansing on a regular basis since.
It is a pity that so many have invested so much into so little.
The production (Linda Hassall) is tight and tense and wonderfully orchestrated. The design (Alison Ross) and lighting (Geoff Squires) are simple, flexible and totally effective as is the use of the overlayed sound (Leila Maraun).
From his first entrance Steve Grives (Ian) demands our attention and commands it throughout, not only with impeccable timing and layered emotional levels, but his appreciation of playing in the confines of the La Boite space.
Melinda Butel (Cate) provides Grives with an admirable and mostly sympathetic foil.
Marcel Dorney as the soldier is the weakest link, lacking the depths of depravity that the extra-ordinary circumstances of war can bring to ordinary souls and Grives’ appreciation of movement and gesture commensurate with film or TV in an acting space in which volume is a poor substitute for intensity.
One moment from the play will remain with me and I suspect it came from either the director or the actor: “If I decide to end it all with a pistol in the mouth, I’ll try to be sure I know where it’s been beforehand.”
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