And, seventeen years after her suicide (aged just 28), Kane still provokes a controversy. A writer of gratuitous, sadistic violence, or one of history's most important and innovative female playwrights?
One thing's for sure, in the safer, male-dominated days of Nicholas Hytner's reign, the National Theatre was acts away from such divisive, disturbing plays as Kane's Blasted, Crave or Cleansed. But now, under Rufus Norris' 'broader church' vision of a nation's theatre that has 'something for everyone', Sarah Kane will finally be staged at the National -- fittingly, at the hip, recently revamped Dorfman Theatre.
Cleansed marks director Katie Mitchell’s anticipated return to the
National Theatre, and it is an unyielding, calculated, and stifling homecoming.
Reports of audience members fainting and walking out circulated throughout
previews. With visually
violent acts including rape, brutal torture by metal rod, mutilation, and eye
injections, Kane’s Cleansed is an
exhausting and unsettling piece of theatre.
Desperate to reunite with her brother Graham (Graham
Butler), Grace (Michelle Terry) finds herself trapped in what originally was a university in Kane’s script, but
which Mitchell transforms into a semi-abandoned drug treatment facility. In
charge is the tyrannous Tinker (Tom Mothersdale), and with a push of any three
switches onstage switches, a klaxon blares and figures in black balaclavas
literally roll on episode after episode of extreme and relentless brutality.
The quick, mechanical processes by which torture devices are plugged in, doors
are opened, and wheels are unlocked is contrasted by often beautiful
slow-motion sequences which heighten Kane’s imagery and create a cruel and
Ambient noise and
suffocating sounds are employed meticulously to reflect the traumatic events
that Grace (and the audience) can barely watch. Mitchell’s direction focuses on
anguish derived from watching pain as much as experiencing pain: Rod (George
Taylor) must look on, a gun pointed at his head, while his lover Carl (Peter
Hobday) has his limbs lacerated. Graham tries to encourage Grace, telling her
it doesn’t hurt as much if you know it’s coming, and yet the events that follow
seem to undermine his affirmation. Terry, Mothersdale, and the rest of the cast
are gripping in a play which must be as draining to perform as it is notoriously difficult to stage and
suffering, Cleansed is ultimately an
exploration of love. Ted says to Carl: ‘I love you now. I'm with you now. Now.
That's it. No more. Don't make me lie to you’. Steadily yet mercilessly, love
is stripped of its artifice and of its dignity, laid bare upon the stage. And somehow, against all brutality, it
remains intact. Kane’s Cleansed is certainly not for the faint-hearted, squeamish or conservative, but it is a probing and powerful piece which
proves its own lasting power.
|What||Cleansed, National Theatre review|
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
16 Feb 16 – 05 May 16, 7:30 PM – 9:15 PM
|Price||£5 - £40|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|