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The Tragedy of History in Sarah Kane's Blasted

  • Sean Carney (a1)
Extract

The first performance of Sarah Kane's Blasted in 1995 is already widely regarded as a landmark in the history of contemporary theatre in England, singled out for the same reason that Edward Bond's 1965 Saved and Howard Brenton's 1980 The Romans in Britain achieved notoriety. Blasted belongs in this genealogy of English plays in that all drew attention to themselves with instances of raw violence represented onstage and contextualized within situations of scathing social criticism. Saved contains an infamous scene in which the apathy of a group of dispossessed urban youths leads them to the casual stoning to death of a baby in its pram, and in The Romans in Britain a young Celtic seer is raped onstage by a Roman centurion. In both cases, these instances of visual shock became decontextualized and held up to the public eye, a disassembling of the part from the whole, which constituted an act of interpretive violence perpetuated against the dramas themselves. The violence in Blasted was similarly decontextualized and sensationalized in the British press. Yet in contrast to Bond and Brenton, Kane's brief body of work quickly received sober reevaluations on the part of previously hostile theatre critics, largely as a result of her suicide in February 1999 at the age of twenty-eight. While Kane had always had supporters among theatre workers, including Edward Bond, who had appreciated the strength of her work from the outset, Blasted is now also praised as a major work of theatre by critics who were previously happy to mock the play and vilify its author.

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Sean Carney is Assistant Professor of Drama and Theatre in the Department of English at McGill University, Montreal. His work has appeared in Theatre Journal, Essays in Theatre/Études théâtrales, Modern Drama, and Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism and is forthcoming in ImageTexT and the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. His book, Brecht and Critical Theory: Dialectics and Contemporary Aesthetics, was published by Routledge in 2005.
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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-survey
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