Blasted, Lyric Hammersmith, London

4.00

A shattering theatrical explosion

Peter Brook once wrote that one of the hallmarks of a great stage play is its capacity to burn an indelible image into your brain – a king and his fool on a stormy heath; two tramps killing time under a bare tree. I was reminded of this as I watched Sean Holmes's extraordinarily compelling revival of Sarah Kane's Blasted, fifteen years on from the premiere that triggered the biggest torrent of outrage since The Romans in Britain.

This is the play which seeks to expose a direct moral continuum between a private act of violence in a Leeds hotel room and the public barbarities of a place like Bosnia. Ian, a racist tabloid hack, rapes his epileptic former girlfriend and thereby unleashes a surreal storm of retributive horrors that blast the play into a different shape. A mortar bomb rips the hotel apart. Ian is sodomised and has his eyeballs sucked out by a war-crazed soldier. Foiled in his bid to commit suicide, he's reduced to digging up and eating a dead baby.

Holmes's production is lethally well-judged. Its unhurried pace ramps up the tension in an almost Hitchcock-like fashion, as when Aidan Kelly's towering, unnervingly gentle soldier eats up every last bit of two full English breakfasts with his fists before indicating any further intentions to a frozen-with-fright Ian. While distinctly alive to the play's gallows humour ("Can't be tragic about your arse," the soldier declares, suggesting that mere buggery at gun point is a picnic to what he's been through), the production skilfully pre-empts defensive laughter at the pile-up of atrocities by heightening our sense both of the hideous poetic justice behind each of them and the ways in which they are like a sick, mocking confirmation of Ian's chauvinist paranoid fantasies.

The excellent performances highlight the enlivening contradictions in Kane's characters. Danny Webb's Ian is both a cacklingly callous, sexually perverted Yorkshire bigot and a pathetic, terminally ill man on a self-destructive bender. There's a twisted mix of gross opportunism and anxious concern in his attitude to Cate, who veers between epileptic defencelessness, residual intimacy and vindictive disgust in Lydia Wilson's striking portrayal.

Using the Lyric's full depth and height, Paul Wills's stunning design reduces the wrecked hotel to a few concrete girders that dwarf the bed now marooned in epic desolation. In a manner that recalls Brook's criterion for a great play, the final series of snapshots of Ian in extremis are here picked with a terrible poetic beauty in a lofty shaft of white light as though they were holy pictures retouched by Beckett or Bacon. The sight of him, say, hugging the corpse of the soldier who raped him in an abject search for comfort is a blistering blend of the horrible and the heart-rending. And, of course, there's the play's indelible climactic image of Ian's blinded head poking through the floorboards in a scene where he's revived from death by a shower of rain and then fed bread and gin by Cate – an act of charity whose redemptiveness has just the right offhand, downbeat quality in this shatteringly persuasive revival.

To 20 November ( www.lyric.co.uk)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea