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October 4, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Written by Sarah Kane
Directed by Kat Thomas

At The Basement Theatre, Toi Whakaari
Oct 1 – 4

Reviewed by Jackson Coe

It’s funny to think that just a few months ago, Sarah Kane was barely a blip on my radar. Yet in the space of just a few months, I’ve been exposed to two of her most daring and provocative works. They sure don’t describe her as a Brutalist for nothing – her work certainly commands a strong reaction. Kat Thomas’ production of Kane’s Blasted at Toi Whakaari is a remarkable realisation of Kane’s first play, and is every bit as intense and dangerous as I was expecting.

Blasted begins in a fancy hotel room, where marble flooring, a fine chandelier and exquisite ham meals betray a social decadence which is brought crashing down by a rousing explosion mid-way through the play. The Welsh journalist who serves as the shows’ protagonist is played commendably by Patrick Davies, while his young and simple-minded lover is immaculately realised by Martine Gray. A foreign soldier whose despicable deeds break our journalist apart is played with staunch intensity by Andrew McKenzie.

Kane’s play is famed for its blatant display of some of the most monstrous acts imaginable, and a lot of their power rest on the ability of the actors to convincing portray graphic rape, gore and pain. Here, the players commit to stark nudity and violence with a confidence which is a tribute to the professionalism of the production. In particular, Patrick Davies takes to his role with guts that mark him as one of Wellington’s most daring actors.

The room goes through several changes at various points in the play, and the versatility of designer Tureiti Nelson’s set is testimony to a rising talent. Beds and tables are tossed about the room, and what at the beginning appears to be elegant flooring is cleverly altered through lighting changes to become chipped and worn. Also, a threatening image of broken towers on the horizon foreshadows one of the plays more climatic moments. Nelson’s well-designed set does a fine job of supporting the dramatic impact of the play.

I do find a gripe with the nationality of the soldier, who in this version is portrayed as American. I am told that the script never specifies the solider’s nationality, so it is up to the production to decide his country of origin. Staged during the turmoil in the Balkans, the original production in 1995 served as a warning to the British about the disaster on their doorstep, and this was in part conveyed through the nationality of the soldier who arrives mid-way through the play. This version uses an American soldier. The problem here is that a New Zealand audience already knows that the USA are, to be frank, war-mongerers (see, for instance, recent plays such as The American Pilot and Guardians). In making the soldier American there is no element of shock or surprise. A more subtle choice would have afforded the play’s warning more potency.

I was most sad to discover that Kane died at a young age almost ten years ago, yet what remains is a small canon of plays which still have the power to fascinate and captivate. I would thoroughly recommend taking any opportunity to see Kane’s plays in action. I know I certainly will do again.

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