Interviewed at the Liverpool University concert a fortnight ago Harrison Birtwistle said in respect of at least two of his compositions something like ‘there isn’t another piece that’s like x’. Having now seen Blasted
I find myself wondering if each of Sarah Kane’s works isn’t similarly sui generis
. I found Cleansed
, like Blasted
, a very moving experience; one that prompts a lot of questions to which there are no simple answers and which trusts its audience to draw their own conclusions. That is, it presents us with some very extreme behaviour without any sense of preaching to us along the lines of ‘look how awful this is’. The one thing the two plays have in common, superficially, is that in both there appears to be a war raging outside though neither is overtly about war.
I avoid reading reviews before seeing a play but it was impossible to avoid comments on Cleansed
as stories about people being outraged, fainting and storming out of the theatre penetrated as far as the Today
programme. There is, I always think, something rather perverse about people who buy tickets for a piece which is advertised as containing graphic scenes of violence and sexual violence and then get upset when it turns out to be less than fragrant. Fortunately, things had settled down by this afternoon and, as far as I could tell, there were no walkouts or collapses – possibly because it turned out that all the gruesome violence was, in fact, simulated and everyone in today’s audience had managed to work that out. The nudity was real enough, however; and connected to perhaps the biggest defect of the production. For some reason the techies had decided the actors needed amplifying (even though it was in the NTs smallest permanent space) so players who had the integrity to strip off for their art were left wandering round stark naked except for belts around their waists and wires up their backs. It was more than a little ridiculous but the production was strong enough to survive this strange decision.
is sui generis
it is by no means ex nihilo
. There were some very strong allusions to other works, the most obvious of which was to Nineteen-Eighty-Four
but I thought I also saw references to Hitchcock (the way one character, several times, spoke the word ‘lovely’ immediately had me thinking of Frenzy
) and Bunuel. A striking similarity to a detail in Patrick Marber’s Closer
had me scrambling for the timelines to see that the two works appeared within a year of each other (with Marber’s being the earlier). And some of the nightmarish images seem to be influenced by Brian Clemens – a sort of X-rated tribute to The Avengers
. Of course, some of this might be down to director Katie Mitchell rather than to Kane and, not having access to the script, I’m not really in a position to disentangle them.
The set – which is the same throughout the unbroken 100 minutes – is a terribly run down hospital. The walls are crumbling, the panes of the skylights are smashed, rats run free etc. This could be a consequence of the ravages of war but is not necessarily so – the man in charge, one Tinker (yet another fine performance from Tom Mothersdale – the third I’ve seen in the last year or so), admits to not being real doctor, the staff are masked and clearly strangers to the Hippocratic Oath, the patients all seem to be prisoners of a sort and the ‘treatments’ are sadistic and torturous. Into this environment comes Grace (Michelle Terry in a very committed performance) looking for her brother. Tinker agrees to help her - though what constitutes help in his book is extremely odd – after she begs to be allowed to stay as a patient rather than just accept that her brother – who, it’s strongly hinted is also her lover – is dead. On one level the story is about how love manages to insert itself even in these desperate conditions and we also get introduced, inter alia, to a tragic gay couple and to Tinker’s obsession with a dancer in a coin-operated peep show (who first appears with a bag over her head as well as the more conventional stripper’s outfit) which seems to take place in a sit-down shower cubicle.
Confused yet? Well, there’s lots more but the good news is that, in my opinion at least, the nightmare story holds up very well for the length of the piece and almost certainly has some important insights if only I could work out what they are. I would, with the obvious reservations for people who feel they might be offended, recommend seeing Cleansed
if you can. It appears that advance tickets are now sold out but there are always returns, day seats and the new Friday Rush thing (see NT homepage).http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/cleansed?dates=all#tabpos