Continuing its recent tradition of producing whole seasons dedicated to one writer, Sheffield Theatres is staging the complete works of Sarah Kane, a controversial and in-yer-face dramatist who died tragically young.
Artistic Director Daniel Evans, who acted in the premieres of two of her plays, describes her as “a truth seeker”.
“She believed passionately that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be represented in the theatre, however beautiful or cruel,” he says. “If something existed, then it could (and should) be portrayed and discussed. She is undoubtedly one of the most courageous people I’ve known .
“In her own way, Sarah Kane’s writing changed the face of British theatre. Much has been said and written about her death, but it’s important to say that Sarah had a wonderful, dark sense of humour - and a huge heart. Her plays are full of tenderness and a yearning for love.”
Opening in the Crucible Studio this week is Blasted, her first and best known play, whose depiction of rape, eye-gouging and cannibalism in civil war caused outrage when first performed 20 years ago.
From a hotel room in Leeds where a racist middle-aged man proceeds to rape his younger companion a bomb explosion plunges us into the atrocities of a war zone.
The critics denounced it, led by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker whose review was headlined “this disgusting feast of filth.”
By the time it was revived at the Royal Court after Kane’s suicide at the age of 28, many had changed their tune.
Associate director Richard Wilson observes: “The writing is rather wonderful but when you sit down and start blocking it you come to the conclusion that it doesn’t bear much examination in naturalistic terms,” he says. “It’s a political piece, an anti-war piece and it’s full of confusions.”
Apparently Kane was writing a play about a rape in a hotel room when she saw newsreel footage of the Balkan war and decided she wanted to write a play about that.
“She wondered if she should give up the play about rape and then thought, no, there’s a correlation. War is rape and this is rape and she always believed that war was sown by individual acts. So she turned the Leeds play into a universal play. It’s a very spare play – she doesn’t give a lot of information such as how the play has moved from Leeds to Croatia. It moves with the explosion – as though we have all been blown off course to another place.
“It just seems as if she is writing about today. The horrors and cruelties of Isis, for one thing, and then rape is in the headlines again, such as the Ched Evans case, and even the Paris shootings, it seems absolutely of today. It makes you think the world is perhaps an even worse place now than in 1995,” he reflects.
There will be full productions of Blasted, Crave and 4.48 Psychosis, semi-staged readings directed by Daniel Evans of Phaedra’s Love and a screening of her film, Skin.