A woman, sat near me during the performance of Blasted at the Lyric Hammersmith last night, spent quite a lot of time with her head in her hands, looking into her lap. The way she'd been smooching with her male friend prior to the performance inclines me to believe she wasn't sickening for something but just found the play as "disturbing" as it had been described on the official literature.
The problem I have when plays are described as shocking or disturbing is that I see it as a challenge: "So shock me." And most fail. It's not that I am unshockable, far from it, but the things that shock me are the totally unexpected and the more unusual.
For example, I've never been able to watch the deep-fat fryer episode of Spooks ever again because it still haunts me, likewise the Last King of Scotland for the meat hook scene. There is a description a character in Philip Ridley's Fastest Clock in the Universe gives about a fur factory that also stays with me.
By I digress slightly. *Plot spoilers* Perhaps there is something wrong with me but Ian's (Danny Webb) implied rape of Cate (Lydia Wilson) and then the Soldier's (Aiden Kelly) rape of Ian didn't so much as raise an eyebrow. Neither did the nudity for that matter - when you've seen Ian McKellen, as King Lear, drop his pants and dance about, you are sort of prepared for anything on the nudity scale.
Let me rewind just slightly to explain the plot a little more. The play opens in a smart hotel room where Ian, a heavy-drinking, heavy-smoking, gun-wielding hack has arranged to meet up with former girlfriend Cate who is a lot younger than him and suffers from a form of epilepsy that makes her pass out unexpectedly.
Ian is desperate to get back with Cate, motivated primarily by a last fumble before he succumbs to his indulgence induced failing health. After a night in which he may or may not have taken advantage of her she makes a run for it shortly after which a soldier bursts in, there having been some sort of civil breakdown or revolution.
The Soldier is motivated by revenge for the attrocities committed on his girlfriend. He enacts his revenge by repeating the attrocities on the men or women he captures, hence the scenes described above.
Maybe my lack of engagement with the play was in part due to spending the first two scenes trying to get the measure of it. The smart hotel room setting for the first two scenes led me up one avenue of expectation but then the anarchic shift led me in another.
However, since seeing the play I've thought about it a lot. More than I'd think about other plays that were equally as unmoving. It's made me think about my lack of reaction. Why wasn't male rape shocking? Was it because after his behaviour towards Cate it felt like he was getting a dose of his own medicine? If the same scene had been played out with the Soldier and Cate would I have found that shocking?
So I think I'm going to have to give it three stars overall. No more than three for the lack of engagement but more than two for giving the grey matter something to chew over.
Blasted has now finished it's run at the Lyric Hammersmith.
(Is a work in progress, need to do a little more research)