first night

Blasted

Andrew Shires experiences the controversial offering from Bailey Theatre Company.

 It’s fair to say that Blasted has been one of the most talked about shows being performed in Durham this term, due to the extremely graphic, violent and sexual nature of the play. Nikhil Vyas, the director, even warns in the programme that it “won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.” Sadly, Blasted was not mine. However I can still appreciate the effort and talent that has been put into it, and so will address this.

The play is set entirely in a hotel room where the racist, homophobic and sexually violent Ian has brought the more innocent, excitable Cate. Later a Soldier arrives, bringing a new level of violence and devastation to the setting. The three characters undergo a number of atrocities and tragedies, leading to an empty and bleak final act.

My main issues lie with the script. The play is so determined to offend and disgust, so intent on causing controversy that it ends up just coming across as ludicrous. The first rape threat is relatively shocking, helped by the remarkable acting. However, after an evening of them the audience becomes relatively desensitised. At no point is there any real feeling of danger or panic, as no matter what happens, the dialogue beforehand has been so ridiculously exaggerated, the events described so unbelievable that there is never any chance of anything worse being shown on stage. The most shocking moment, a disgusting act of violence near the end of the play is genuinely quite disturbing, but it doesn’t change anything. Its effects are never felt, and the play moves on to the next grotesque event or speech without giving the audience time to formulate a reaction.

There is a lot to praise about this production however. The acting is truly remarkable throughout. Henry Fell as Ian makes the most of an extraordinarily inconsistent character, truly loathsome in the first act and almost pitiable in the second. His anger and aggression, and above all his fear permeate his physicality, creating some shocking and incredibly tense moments. The Soldier, played by an almost unrecognisable Greg Plummer is similar in terms of aggression and anger, and Plummer effectively manages to make the dizzying transitions between corrupt brutality and utter loneliness incredibly believable, despite the unconvincing dialogue. His scenes with Fell push both actors to the limit, and I challenge an audience to not be deeply impressed by either of them.

Polly Norkett was also outstanding as Cate. From the very beginning there was a sense of almost childlike wonder and curiosity at this world she has found herself in. Her wonderful physicality captured the audience, and her presence was very much missed for most of the second act. The scenery was also impressive, with the reveal of the dilapidated hotel room after the interval being one of the highlights of the play. Vyas should be praised for effectively bringing to life an extremely difficult setting, and whilst some effects were not as convincing as others, his bravery should absolutely be commended. The play is grotesque, but it is also relatively stylized, and Vyas knows instinctively just how much to show the audience to create the intended effect.

There were a few issues however. A loud whispering, reportedly from members of the tech team detracted slightly from moments in the second act. Many also commented on members of the production team running past the audience to get to the backstage at the very beginning of the interval. However, overall, the evening displayed an incredible amount of talent from Durham Student Theatre, which was sadly wasted on an unimpressive script.

30 October 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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