Disgusting violence? Actually it's quite a peaceful play

In her first interview Sarah Kane, a 23-year-old playwright, answers the critics who were outraged by her first play

"EVERYTHING they said was a lie. They didn't say anything that was true, except that I'd written a play."

Sarah Kane is looking remarkably self-possessed for a young playwright of 23 who has been splashed last week over the tabloids and had her first play demolished by the critics. "I knew the tabloids wouldn't like it, but the response has been hysterical and apoplectic."

She does not exaggerate. "This disgusting feast of filth" said the headline above Jack Tinker's Daily Mail review. Nick Curtis in the London Evening Standard described the final scenes as "a systematic trawl through the deepest pits of human degradation". Most reviews catalogued the horrors depicted: emotional and physical violence, male and female rape, the scene where a starving, war-damaged soldier blinds the central character and, eats his eyes.

James Macdonald, director of the play at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs, sees the play rather differently. "Blasted is not a gratuitous attempt to shock. It is a serious play about the origins and effects of violence, and a moral and compassionate

piece of work."

The English stage has not seen a scandal on this scale since Mary Whitehouse tried (unsuccessfully) to prosecute the National Theatre production of Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain for its act of simulated anal rape.

"It is distressing, if not entirely surprising," said Ms Kane. "I expected criticism, I didn't expect it to become a news item. It's a 65-seat theatre and suddenly it's Newsnight and The World at One. The thing that shocks me the most is that they seem to have been more upset by the presentation of violence than by violence itself. I mean, a 15-year- old girl has just been raped in a wood but there's more space in the tabloids about my play than about this brutal act. That's the kind of journalism that the play absolutely condemns."

Perhaps understandably, she does not want to reveal too much . about herself. "My mother has been in tears on the phone all day," she says. "If I talk too much about my life then it's an excuse for people to claim that the play is somehow autobiographic a l. It devalues it."

She is an Essex girl, born there to lower-middle-class parents in 1971. At school she directed Chekhov's The Bear and the Joan Littlewood musical Oh, What A Lovely War! Then she went to Bristol University to study drama, thought she might become a director and then discovered there was nothing she really wanted to direct. She wrote a monologue which was performed in Bristol and at the Edinburgh Festival and has since written two further monologues.

Today she lives alone in south London. Apart from state benefits and what she will earn from Blasted, she has no income.

There is, she says, "no real debate in this country about how you represent violence in art. We don't know how to talk about it, we don't know how to deal with it. The violence in this play is completely de-glamorised. It's just presented."

____________________________ `It may present a nightmare but it lacks even the logic of a dream' -Irving Wardle, page 25

-------------------------- She stands accused of having set out to shock. "I resent that the most. I wrote it to tell the truth. Of course that's shocking. Take the glamour out of violence and it becomes utterly repulsive. Would people seriously prefer it if the violence was appealing?"

Some people have said Kane doesn't seem to know how she wants her audience to respond. "It's my job to represent it. People should judge for themselves. I have no interest in trying to manipulate people's emotions or opinions. I'm simply trying to tell the truth about human behaviour as I see it. Everyone's reactions to that will always be entirely different. It's not in my control. I wouldn't want it to be."

This may be the heart of the problem. Kane's play does not take sides. She shows compassion for her characters but does not justify their behaviour. "If I had written something more polemical, with clearly defined good and bad characters, maybe it would just have been dismissed as a bad play and the reaction would have been calmer."

There are those who subscribe to the theory that all publicity is good publicity, but obviously, Daily Express headlines yelling "Rape play girl goes into hiding" are not good for the soul. Given the chance, would she have changed anything?

"No, I hate the idea of theatre just being an evening pastime. It should be emotionally and intellectually demanding. I love football. The level of analysis that you listen to on the terraces is astonishing. If people did that in the theatre . . . but they don't. They expect to sit back and not participate. If there's a place for musicals, opera or whatever, then there should be a place for good new writing, irrespective of box office.

"What do we want our culture to be remembered for in a hundred years' time: Neighbours?

"If someone had said to me six months ago, `in six months' time the play will be utterly crapped on and no one is going to realise that you're a good writer,' I would have thought it would be devastating. Actually, it's not. I really do think if it wasn't well written and about something important, it wouldn't have touched such a collection of raw nerves."

She sighs. "You'd think people would be able to tell the difference between something that's about violence and something that's violent." She ponders. "I don't think it's violent at all. It's quite a peaceful play."

The Royal Court Theatre has already commissioned her to write a second.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum