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Young playwright blasted for `brutalist' debut work

Offering two rapes, masturbation and a tabloid hack eating a baby is a surefire way for a playwright to draw attention to her first full-length work.

Blasted, by Sarah Kane, 23, which opened at the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs in London this week, has bitterly divided the critics.

While the play's supporters proclaim Ms Kane's work a magnificent, dark vision of the late 20th century and an honest and brave portrayal of human brutality, the Daily Telegraph's critic Charles Spencer claims graphic sex scenes and gratuitous violence almost made hardened critics throw up.

At one point in the play, the journalist is raped by a soldier who then sucks out his eyes and eats them.

Yesterday, James Macdonald, Blasted's director, defended the play - which focuses on an abusive relationship against the background of war - as a "deeply moral and compassionate" piece of writing by a playwright of great promise.

But for Jack Tinker, theatre critic of the Daily Mail, the experience obviously proved hugely traumatic.

Yesterday he confided that found Ms Kane's budding talent so utterly and entirely disgusting that he had been driven, finally, into the arms of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".

Mr Tinker suggested that the reason only one person left the 65-seat theatre during the performance was that the British were too polite and stoical to do anything but grin and bear it.

The onslaught continued in yesterday's London Evening Standard when Nick Curtis condemned Blasted for its "sheer, unadulterated brutalism".

But stage buggery and cannibalism have not raised an eyebrow at the Royal Court, where the championing of new work by young writers has always meant risking a little controversy.

A spokeswoman for the theatre said she could not see what all the fuss was about.

"We had an equally violent play on here before Christmas about women muggers and there was scarcely a ripple. This has to be seen in context. This is the seventh in a series of 11 plays by new writers all under the age of 30.

"I have not seen anyone walk out of Blasted but I have never had so many calls about a play. There have been more inquiries about this than there were when it was announced that the Young Vic was closing. That shows the inversion of values."

David Benedict, of the Independent, said criticism had come from predictable quarters. "We were in the bar before we saw it and we all knew which critics wouldn't like it, It is horrifying but I thought it was wonderful. It is astonishingly controlled, meticulous and brave. You could have heard a pin drop."

Mel Kenyon, Ms Kane's agent, said yesterday that the playwright had been overwhelmed by the "vehemence" of the criticism.

"Clearly a play that looks at violence in a de-glamourised way is going to be shocking. She is linking violence on a personal, social and political level."

Like Ms Kenyon, the Royal Court clearly considers Ms Kane worth investing in. The theatre has already commissioned another work due for completion in two months. Yesterday Ms Kenyon would only say that the second work was at an "embryonic" stage.

Blasted is already playing to full houses, and as Ms Kane's agents - who once represented Joe Orton - know, a touch of controversy should keep the punters coming in.

If history is anything to go by, Blasted, like Orton's once-controversial Entertaining Mr Sloane and What the Butler Saw, might yet find itself on the school syllabus or playing at the National Theatre.

Review, page 25