Season of powerful work by passionate truth seeker Kane

Martin Marquez and Jessica Barden in Blasted which opens a season of Sarah Kane's work. Picture: Mark Douet
Martin Marquez and Jessica Barden in Blasted which opens a season of Sarah Kane's work. Picture: Mark Douet
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Earlier this week theatre maker Dan Bye posted on Twitter about a show he had seen, which he loved and which had received terrible reviews. In doing so he invoked Sarah Kane saying that critics had not “so totally missed the point since Blasted”.

Long story short: (we will be covering, at some length, the saga of Blasted in next week’s Culture) the critics hated Sarah Kane’s Blasted when it was first staged –and then ten years later called it a profound work of deep originality.

In invoking her name on Twitter in 2015, Bye confirms that Kane has, with her small but incredibly significant oeuvre, attained immortality.

Sarah Kane is one of the most significant, divisive, celebrated and influential playwrights of the past 20 years.

This despite having written five plays and a short film – oh, and her work having been hated – by critics when they first met it.

It is entirely appropriate that she should be the latest writer – the first woman – to be celebrated with a writer’s season at Sheffield Theatres.

The fact that her works are so limited means that audiences will be able to literally experience every piece of work she wrote for performance.

Charlotte Gwinner is the director taking on two of her works, Crave and 4.48 Psychosis. It’s a challenge – neither play has stage directions, or names for characters and in 4:48 Psychosis, there is no indication which lines should be spoken by which actor.

“She was an icon and her works are literary classics and as a director and actors we are all on an incredible adventure into her work to see just how true that is,” says Gwinner.

How, though, do you even start with a script that, in the case of Crave, lists characters by letters of the alphabet, and in the case of 4:48 Psychosis, gives no lines to any particular character?

“The precision of the writing and the rigorous process is extraordinary,” says Gwinner.

“It absolutely works if you simply yield to the writing and just follow the trajectory of the page, line by line. Psychosis is a play about a divided mind and a psychotic breakdown. You just have to trust the writing.”

In 1999 Kane, two days after taking an overdose, hanged herself in the hospital to which she had been admitted, and her final play, 4:48 Psychosis, is regarded as being an attempt by Kane to explore her fractured mind.

While controversial, her work has an undisputed power and by bringing a whole season of it to Sheffield, Evans is recognising her important place in British theatre.

He says: “I had the great privilege of knowing her and got to act in two world premieres of her plays. She was a truth seeker.

“She believed passionately that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be represented in theatre, however beautiful or cruel.

“She is undoubtedly one 
of the most courageous people I’ve known and I’m delighted to be presenting a season of her work here in Sheffield.”

• The Sarah Kane Season, Sheffield Theatres, to March 21. Full listings at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or on 0114 2496000.

• See next week’s Culture for an interview with the cast and director of Kane’s first and most controversial play, Blasted.