Blast from the Past

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Review of 'Love Me or Kill Me', Graham Saunders, Manchester University Press, £14.99

Anyone who is seriously interested in contemporary British theatre should read this stimulating, well written and very well researched book. Sarah Kane had a very short theatrical career which began with the controversial 'Blasted' in January 1995, when she was only 23, and ended with Kane's suicide in February 1999. In the main part of the book Saunders examines the development of Kane as a writer and a director and provides a detailed analysis of Kane's plays 'Blasted', 'Phaedra's Love', 'Cleansed', 'Crave' and '4:48 Psychosis'. The shorter second half of the book is an illuminating series of transcripts of interviews between Saunders and some of the key people who were centrally involved with Kane's work as directors, actors and her agent.

Saunders quotes Kane on many occasions which shows her to be a very committed and passionate dramatist. She also had a sense of humour and a love of football. In his introduction Saunders documents the rise of a new bunch of British dramatists such as Mark Ravenhill, Jez Butterworth and Sarah Kane. They are dramatists who 'relish the oddball, the misfit, the bizarre; but they are troubled by the helplessness they see all around.' Kane was probably the most controversial and most misunderstood.

Her plays contain many extreme acts--rape, genital mutilation, eyes being gouged out, and even eating babies. They also show sexuality and love in extreme circumstances.

When I read 'Blasted' and 'Phaedra's Love' two years ago it was one of the few books I have ever read where I felt quite shaken up by the experience but I was not sure exactly why. Saunders quotes Kane who gives us a clue 'I don't think "Blasted" is a moral play--I think it's amoral, and I think that is one of the reasons people got terribly upset because there isn't a very defined moral framework within which to place yourself and assess your morality and therefore distance yourself from the material.'

This book explains how the plays developed and how Kane was influenced by Shakespeare's 'King Lear', Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot', Ibsen, and ancient Greek drama. 'Blasted' first appeared at the Royal Court theatre in London and was savaged by some critics as 'this disgusting piece of filth' and 'a play which appears to know no bounds of decency, yet has no message to convey by way of excuse.' Saunders puts forward a convincing case that 'Blasted' is a play with a serious purpose.

Saunders shows Kane developing a theatre which had less to do with realism and character but more to do with creating images of emotional truth. The later plays contain less and less dialogue and more and more use of props and detailed stage directions. All of Kane's plays are very short and can be read quickly. This book is a very good introduction to Kane's work.