Review – Blasted, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

Friday 5 November 2010

Picture it. Not many years from now. Andrew and Phil have achieved their long repressed dream to be movers and shakers in the world of theatre.

After decades of plotting and scheming they have finally made it right to the very top of the Dilton Marsh Players, one of west Wiltshire’s top six semi-rural amateur dramatics association, and they are determined to make their mark.

Phil makes his inaugural speech as President in which he scolds the members for the conservativeness of their repertoire.

When We Are Married?  The Sound of Music? Enough of all this reactionary comedy and decadent entertainment. It’s high time the Players got with the times. A modern classic.

Something a little more out there, a little more outré, something more In-Yer-Face and controversial. Something that will wake Dilton Marsh up, hold a mirror to its ugly dystopian features before breaking the mirror into shards and jabbing them angrily into its face, disfiguring it horribly. Something that takes Dilton Marsh violently from behind and buggers it faster than you can say ‘Romans in Britain’.

This year – in a move destined to put DiltonMarsh  on the map and the Little Ashwell Light Opera Society’s Shopping and F***ing in the shade – we shall be having a stab at Sarah Kane‘s Blasted.

It’s got it all:  (‘spoiler’) cussing, hand jobs, blow jobs, masturbation, defecation, urination, anal rape, eyeball eating and the cannibalism of a dead baby.

Out of deference to Andrew’s sentimental vegetarianism we will cut the scene in which someone eats bacon.

Oh, and Andrew, by  the way, has kindly consented to playing the lead after I allayed his reservations about the full frontal nudity with promises of a body stocking and a pork chipolata.

Sadly, it’s never going to happen. We don’t think we could sit through it again (although if you should hear of an am-dram version, do let us know; we may make an exception) .

Sarah Kane may have set out to shock her audiences in 1995, but the only thing that startled the Whingers at Monday’s performance of Blasted at the Lyric Hammersmith was how tedious it mostly was.

Poor Danny Webb‘s Ian suffers gamely almost every indignity known to man but he wasn’t the only one not wearing any clothes: the Emperor wasn’t either.

Oh, it’s probably just us. Perhaps we are as wrong in the same way as Michael Billington and other luminaries who dismissed it on its début at the Royal Court in 1995 as somewhat immature with its need to shock. A lot of theatrical water has passed under the bridge since then, of course and  Kane killed her self in 1999 and Billington (among others) has revised his view.

But to Phil Blasted did conjure up the image of  a young child  pinching Andrew’s party trick of dancing on a table and showing her knickers in a desperate need to elicit attention.

For what it’s worth: slightly dippy Cate (Lydia Wilson) is visiting a much older, dying, scumbag-gangster-cum-journalist’s hotel room in Leeds. Using his presumably usual successful seduction technique of racist and homophobic language with the occasional plaintive “I love you” thrown in Ian attempts to seduce her. A soldier (Aidan Kelly) bursts in and impressively scoffs two breakfasts (some of it off the floor) with one hand whilst clutching a rifle in the other and the hotel is blown to pieces. Turns out we’re in the middle of an unidentified war.

If you leave out the stage directions, Blasted must be a very quick read. Kane makes Pinter appear positively peppy. Scene Two opens with an interminable 10 minutes which is presumably loaded with significance but barely a word spoken and there is nothing to look at. Well, we say nothing, there was a bit of dull business going on allowing Phil time to admire the tiling in the bathroom, the Barcelona chair, the light fixtures and sockets just like the ones he has at home. In fact this would be one occasion where there really would be “No place like home”.

The soldier marks his territory by wetting the bed uttering “It’s Our Town now” but no it isn’t, it’s nothing like it. If you’re the Dilton Marsh players reading the text, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s anything like Thorton Wilders‘ am-dram staple.

In fact despite all the atrocities there’s so little going on at times there’s ample opportunity to read almost anything into it about brutality and man’s inhumanity to man and parallels between both times of war and peace and see the spare but repetitive language as poetic in its simplicity.

But like the men in the cast we stuck it out (we didn’t have much option – 1h 50m and no interval). There was an awful lot of clock watching and not just by the Whingers: the woman in our row kept turning on her phone to check the time too. There was plenty of time to wonder how many people today know what a “joey” was and whether it will make it into the footnotes of annotated texts in the future.

Yet in spite of the text, a combination of Webb’s performance, Sean Holmes direction, Paule Constable’s effective lighting and Paul Wills’ brutal set made the final faintly Becketian 20 minutes curiously mesmerising.

Surprisingly, given what had preceded it, it eventually ended on a relatively upbeat moment of compassion. Were we on the turn? Was an attack of Billingtonitis changing our minds?

No. But we can’t wait for some bright spark to turn it into a Light Opera.


Two out of Five: slightly corked or vinegary

7 Responses to “Review – Blasted, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    I think this is the review I’ve been waiting to read of this show – the one which confirms all of my secret fears. I’ve been worried that all of these people suddenly liked the play because the playwright had killed herself, and that the work itself was, rightly, vilified. And I also find it hard to believe someone’s first work could really be all that good. Thanks for saving me the haul out to Hammersmith – I’m just done with theater that tries to teach or shock, I just really want to have a good night out.

  2. ja Says:

    I saw it last week and pretty much agree with your review except your 2/5 is generous. Never having seen it before and knowing some of the background I was looking forward to it. Sat thinking this must be allegorical but of what? I just could not find any empathy or interest in any of the characters. The only line of humour was when blinded Ian was attempting to kill himself with the gun and told Cate not to stand behind him.

  3. Ali67 Says:

    Please do a Flashdance review!!!! I would love to read your thoughts on it… I’m sure it would make me laugh as much as the show did…

  4. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    I think there’s some conflation of judgement going on here between the play and the production. For more details see my FT review.

  5. Peter Says:

    I went to see it last night, in a theatre full of twittering drama students, most of whom, seemed to think it a profound and provocative work of art.

    It was dull and monotonous.

    Later, my friend pronounced that he would like to see it with Russ Abbot playing Ian and Michael Barrymore playing the soldier. But I think it would be better the other way around.

    Maybe Ruth Madoc as Cate?

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