Is Theatre Still Theatre When it Can’t Be Performed?

***** WARNING – This post contains quotes of a violent and disturbing nature *****

In particular I’m talking about Sarah Kane and her ‘in-yer-face’ approach to theatre.  I have recieved my reading list for a few modules next year, and top of the Contemporary British and American module is Sarah Kane’s Blasted.  The only experience I have ever had of Kane’s writing is a brief attempt at reading 4.48 Psychosis.  And it was very brief.  I opened it on a page that I can’t even quote.  Have a look for yourselves.


If you have any idea how this is supposed to be performed please let me know!  Somehow all of the students in one of the second year modules at university managed to performed excerpts of this play for an assessment.  I couldn’t bring myself to go and watch any of them and sometimes I think I wish I had.  Then I read the script again and realise I wouldn’t have made it through them anyway!

Perhaps I’m a brazen traditionalist, but I like to know that what I’m doing on stage, whether it’s acting or directing, is an accurate representation of what the playwright intended.  Yes, there is always an aspect of interpretation, but what are you supposed to do on stage when confronted with stage directions such as:

The Soldier grips Ian‘s head in his hands.

He puts his mouth over one of Ian‘s eyes, sucks it out, bites it off and eats it.

He does the same to his other eye.

I find it very difficult to understand how this is to be portrayed on stage.  In film this would be incredibly powerful, probably very graphic but ultimately would convey what Kane was saying.  I don’t know how, as a director or a performer, I would bring this to the stage.  This is only one of the many stage directions in Blasted alone that, to me, seem impossible to stage.  Some further examples from other plays include:

Hippolytus dies.  A vulture descends and begins to eat his body. (Phaedra’s Love)

He [Tinkertakes Carl by the arms and cuts off his hands. (Cleansed)

There are two rats, one chewing at Grace/Graham’s wounds, the other at Carl’s. (Cleansed)

I’m intrigued to begin studying this play, though it will probably be around Christmas time so not exactly the most festive of plays.  Though I’m not keen on this particular playwright I always enjoy learning about the hows and whys of a script, and this is no exception.  Who knows, by the end of it I may learn to love Kane and her work.

Are you a fan of Sarah Kane?  Have you been in, or directed, any of her works?


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