Sarah Kane's plays have been overshadowed by their violence and her suicide. But as well as showing the worst of humanity, they are funny and full of loveby Serena Kutchinsky / March 3, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
A “disgusting feast of filth… which appears to know no bounds of decency.” This was a typical charge hurled at Sarah Kane’s first play, Blasted, when it opened at the Royal Court 20 years ago. Blasted, and its author, achieved infamy overnight. Critics took grim pleasure in listing the play’s horrors, which include rape, eyeball-gouging, excrement eating and cannibalism. There were calls in the tabloid press for the theatre to shut its doors, and the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker savaged it on Newsnight. Kane was written off in the broadsheets as “the naughtiest girl in the class”—an amoral purveyor of shock.
The plays were shocking and still are. Kane is a difficult playwright, best known for how her career began and how it ended—with her suicide in 1999. She left behind a compact body of work: five plays, one short film and two newspaper articles. Parallels are inevitably drawn with Sylvia Plath. To some of her fans, Kane is a hero who dressed in black, had affairs with women and kick-started an aggressive theatrical style known as “In Yer Face.” To others she is bad box office—her work is rarely produced commercially in this country, and has never transferred to the West End or been performed at the National Theatre.