Review: Hand to God, Vaudeville Theatre or what would happen if satan visited Sesame Street
Review: Welcome Home Captain Fox! at the Donmar Warehouse

Sarah Kane + Katie Mitchell: Watching Cleansed at the National Theatre or a review of sorts

Cleansed_picture__gallery_imageSarah Kane's plays are Marmite. Katie Mitchell's directing is Marmite. The National Theatre has put the two together. I sat in my seat with trepidation. This is sort of what happened in an abridged version *spoilers*:

Lights up: Stage is a distressed, paint-peeling, abandoned-looking institution of sort. School perhaps. Michelle Terry is in a red dress. Bell rings. She watches what happens but no one seems to notice she is there.

Man begs for drugs. Is given drugs by 'Tinker' (Stan: Look at lap during graphic injection bit). Man taken away presumably dead.

Male lovers talk about their relationship one wants to hear 'I love you forever' the other can only say 'I love you now'.

'I love you forever' is brutally tortured until he admits he'd save himself, not his lover. It is recorded. (Stan: Look at lap during torture).

Bell rings.

Scary men in black suits and black masks with black umbrellas walk  v   e   r   y     s   l   o   w   l   y across the stage with a cremation urn. (Stan: Smirk thinking of the Twitter conversation about Mitchell and slo-mo had had before the play)

Michelle Terry is noticed for first time. Begs for her dead brother's clothes. Swaps clothes with Matthew Tennyson (Stan: doesn't MT look good in that red dress).

Michelle Terry's brother is alive. They dance, mirroring each other.

Bell rings (you get the idea)

Male lovers are back. Confession under torture is played back. Tested again under torture. (Stan: Examine nails closely) Victim is wheeled off stage.

Men in black suits walking  v   e   r   y     s   l   o   w   l   y again.

Michelle Terry shags brother. Wanders around naked. (Stan: Michelle Terry must be cold.)

Booth is wheeled on. Inside is a woman in stringy red bra and knickers, she dances for Tinker who masturbates. He talks to her through an intercom and says he loves her.

CbhO2omWIAEonQrMale lovers. Test under torture. (Stan: Thinking Sarah Kane's view of love is definitely not the stuff of Valentine's Day)

Men in black v   e   r   y     s   l   o   w   l   y again.

A rat gets shot.

Slow motion. Walking backwards. (Stan: smirk again re Twitter conversation)

Matthew Tennyson brings gifts for Michelle Terry - books and chocolates. Tinker force feeds him the chocolates one by one. (Stan: Is MT going to be sick, oh no he's wet himself instead).

Male lovers. Torture. (Stan: look this time, think 'I wonder how they get his feet to look that mangled?')

Tinker and booth woman shag.

A rat gets shot.

Michelle Terry is forced to have a sex change operation.

Matthew Tennyson is forced by Tinker to rip up books and burn them. (Stan: Doesn't Matthew Tennyson look pretty with woman's make up on?)

Tinker rejects booth woman and shoots her.

Men in black suits, probably. 

A rat gets shot, probably.

Bell definitely rings.

Dark out. Curtain call. Actors look as shell-shocked as the audience.

Stan: Leave theatre overhear someone saying 'do you have any idea what that was about?' Need to think.


Thoughts: It's not that I hated Cleansed. I can't hate it, it made me think too much for that, it was too much of an experience to watch for that. It's a play that I will always remember but I can't love it either. I didn't engage with it, or not at least in the way I would normally engage with a play or its characters. It is abstract, a play that represents emotion in a physical form. It is a play that feels very personal to Sarah Kane. I felt like a voyeur watching someone else's pain and agony. Katie Mitchell's production distances it further. She disconnects the audience, as she has a habit of doing. The irony is that the play represents a deep, dark heart swell of emotion and pain and yet it doesn't really touch you. It leaves you unmoved, about that anyway. Is that the point?

Cleansed is one hour and 40 minutes long without and interval and is on at the National Theatre until May 5. I can't give it a star rating because I just don't know.


This is the second Sarah Kane play I've seen and I would give another one a go. Katie Mitchell, I have a love/hate relationship with, she directed Mr W in ...some trace of her which I adored and she also directed a really good production of The Trial of Ubu at Hampstead. But I loathed A Woman Killed With Kindness.

My reviews and related posts:

Blasted, Lyric Hammersmith

...some trace of her, National Theatre

A Woman Killed With Kindness, National Theatre

Did I get it wrong with A Woman Killed With Kindness?

The Trial of Ubu, Hampstead Theatre

Katie Mitchell under the critical spotlight