Presented by State Theatre Company of SA
Reviewed Monday 8th October 2012
This, Sarah Kane’s first play, was initially panned by the critics, dismissed as being disgusting, filthy, depraved, and much more. Other playwrights, however, had far more positive responses to it.
She suffered from depression and took her own life a few years later, aged 28, hanging herself with her shoelaces when taking an overdose failed. Her entire legacy from her short career is five plays and one film.
Into a smart hotel room, all glass walls and chrome trim, with off-white fittings, walk Ian and Cate, a middle aged man and a young woman who, at first sight, seem an ill-matched pair. He quickly removes his jacket top to reveal a shoulder holster, which is only a mild shock, and shortly after he strips for a shower, which is still nothing too shocking by today’s standards. The play continues, piling one shock on top of another, giving the initial critics the impetus to write about it from the perspective that it was merely a play designed to shock, and willing to go to any lengths to do so.
The arrival of an armed soldier takes it into an even darker area, and yet another level again is reached after a mortar bomb hits and destroys the room. In 1995 the impact might indeed have been greater than today, when we have seen so many later plays with extremely strong themes and explicit violent and sexual action, not to mention what we see on television and in films, particularly in foreign films on SBS television, as well as read in books. There is no doubt that we have become numbed to so much of this sort of thing; even our news services have become progressively more explicit.
Director, Netta Yashchin, has brought some fine performances from her cast but one cannot help feeling, at times, that she has attempted to reduce the shock value by occasionally reminding us that this is only a play. As an example, when Cate has a fit and passes out, Ian rapes her unconscious body, without removing or rearranging any of her clothes, or his own. We are thus shielded a little from the act, but also distanced from it and the characters involved. This counteracts the more realistic parts of the work and we tend to become passive observers rather than as involved and moved by the piece, as the writer intended.
Wendy Todd’s very clever design, a smart, expensive looking hotel room, transforms dramatically when the bomb hits, beams cracking and walls tumbling. Mark Pennington’s superb lighting design creates an atmosphere of gloom that adds to the effectiveness of the scene of devastation, reflecting the dark, shadowy mood of the play at the same time. Composer Stuart Day’s score is unobtrusive, subtly adding to the tension and giving dramatic emphasis.
Patrick Graham plays Ian, the dying journalist and hit man, a bullying, self-centred, demanding, heavy drinking, chain smoking, manipulative, racist, sexist, homophobe. Graham takes what could easily be a two dimensional stereotype and finds the man behind the traits, creating a fully formed character that makes the traits believable.
Anni Lindner is the ex-girlfriend that he wants to get together with again. She appears rather naïve, perhaps even a little simple minded, and is an epileptic, prone to frequent fits. Linder makes Cate the only one in the play for whom one might have a little sympathy. She makes Cate a woman capable of enduring everything inflicted upon her with a stalwart spirit and determination to remain herself, no matter what.
Mark Saturno is the anonymous soldier, severely mentally damaged by the horrors of the war, those that have happened to him and, in particular, his raped and murdered girlfriend, and also by the atrocities that he has inflicted on others. Saturno brings a terrific sense of brutality and raw power to the role, uncontrolled, and subject to the soldier’s emotional highs and lows. Saturno does a marvellous job of portraying this complex and tormented creature, devoid of most of his humanity.
After the bomb hits, Cate slips away when there is a persistent knocking at the door distracting Ian. He eventually answers the door. The soldier enters and quickly takes over the dominant role that Ian had held over Cate, subjecting Ian to the subservient role that Cate had held. Cate eventually returns, after the brutal attacks on Ian and the death of the soldier, and takes on the role of carer to the now blind Ian. These changes give Graham and Linder an opportunity to show different aspects of their characters, and they do so with great skill, Graham developing his character, becoming a suicidal and dependent psychological mess, and Lindner giving us a chance to see the inner strength and nurturing instinct in the pragmatic Cate.
This play was not to the taste of everybody in the audience, with a number of walkouts under cover of darkness during set changes. The three excellent performances, however, are not something that would be easy to walk away from. If the content does not deter you, and there are some whose dispositions might not cope, this is an example of fine acting in very difficult roles and well worth seeing for the performances and complex characterisations.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to Sat 13th October 2012
Duration: 100mins (no interval)
Tickets: Adults $35/concession $29/under 30 $25
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or on line here
Warning: this production contains coarse language, smoking, male nudity, simulated male and female rape, cannibalism, and simulated extreme violence.