Issue 184 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1995 Copyright Socialist Review



Sex, lies and tabloid tales

by Sarah Kane

The soldier's revenge

Sarah Kane's Blasted opened at the Royal Court in January and sparked a media storm. With the exception of a handful of critics, the press valiantly launched themselves into the role of guardians of the nation's morals and proceeded to protect us from the perverting influence of this play by compiling, with righteous disgust and tireless fascination, a catalogue of its sexual depravities.
It contains acts of frottage, they bleated indignantly. Never having heard of frottage but convinced it must be something unspeakably perverse, I watched with rapt attention waiting for the act to occur. As it turned out, frottage in itself is so completely innocuous that I missed it. For the uninitiated it is the 'abnormal desire for contact between clothed bodies of oneself and another'. The same term is used for brass rubbings.
At their most tolerant the press patronisingly enquire how such a young woman, (Kane is 24) came to have such a filthy mind. Probably through reading the papers. Another story bandied around was that during the course of the play one of the actors defecates into another's mouth. Not so--this was entirely fabricated by the media. The irony is that Blasted deals with precisely this sort of luridly sensationalist hack journalism.
Ian, a 45 year old Yorkshire reporter, writes stories about the ritual slaughter of a would be model and a sadistic car dealer's exploits with an under-age prostitute. He also bullies, abuses and rapes his 21 year old ex-girlfriend, Cate, who is sharing his Leeds hotel room.
Ian meets his nemesis in the form of a story that he didn't write. A military coup takes place in the city and a soldier raids Ian's hotel room. 'Our town now', he says and pisses on Ian's bed, humiliating him as he has humiliated Cate.
The soldier tells Ian about his war crimes. 'You should be telling people', he says. Ian shrugs it off. 'This isn't a story anyone wants to hear.' He himself becomes the victim when the soldier rapes and mutilates him. The soldier is re-enacting the murder and torture of his girlfriend by enemy soldiers: the kind of event that Ian, as a journalist, would relish 'Your girlfriend, she's a story.' Ian's fate is Cate's fantasy, but Kane is never deterministic about the outcome of violence.
Cate is not the passive recipient and perpetuator of Ian's sadism. She buries her innocence, but she remains the only character to display generosity and the only character capable of holding a position of power without abusing it. As the play ends, the soldier has killed himself and Ian is dying. Cate has acquired some food and shares it with Ian. She has little pity for him, neither does she derive pleasure from his helplessness. She alone has a prospect of survival.
Irony heaps upon irony in the press reception of Blasted, with accusations of gratuitousness and sensationalism levelled at Kane. In isolating and fetishising various sexual acts, the media has presented exactly the kind of distorted, alienated sexuality that Kane seeks to examine. Ian's chauvinism, racism, homophobia and bigotry are intelligently dissected to reveal his sexual relations as a battlefield in which he strives for power and dominance, while desperately trying to tighten a grip on life made vulnerable by disease and the threat of political assassination.
In separating sex from its context, the media has failed to recognise Kane's work as an examination of the social construction of sex. The press coverage has confirmed her criticisms of tabloid journalism by displaying an unerring eye for the kind of lurid misrepresentation that translates so well into hard copy.
Blasted is sharp and frequently funny. It deals with difficult and controversial territory and, as such, opens itself up to a lot of knee jerk criticisms. None of it will stick. Kane's grasp of her subject matter is too perceptive.
The function of drama is the subject of much debate, but it seems reasonable to suggest that it should tell us something about the ways in which we live and why. Blasted shows us the violence in society and suggests a material basis for its existence. If anything, it is a sad indictment of contemporary theatre that this play is held to be so beyond the pale.
The importance of Blasted is proportional to attempts to trivialise it. Kane has already been hailed by Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill and Edward Bond as one of their own. She is writing a second play for the Royal Court and has scripted a ten minute film for Channel 4, currently being made.
Ruth James
Blasted has finished its run at the Royal Court: the script is published by Methuen in Frontline Intelligence 2--New Plays for the Nineties f9.95

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