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
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories
comedy

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?