Sunday, 8 May 2016

Cleansed - Review

National Theatre, London


Written by Sarah Kane
Directed by Katie Mitchell

Peter Hobday and Tom Mothersdale

Cleansed at the National Theatre disappointed for a number of reasons.

Sarah Kane's 1998 vision is of a fractured totalitarian place, somewhere, anywhere, where homosexuality is despised. Hers is a noble argument, for in today's world we do not need to look too far to be reminded such cultures and regimes are all around. 

But through the much missed Kane's troubled prism, the only characters on stage who experience a pure love are the gay couple. There are two manifestations of straight desire, one an incestuous fantasy and the other via a tawdry peep-show encounter.

The persecution of minorities is of course abhorrent, but that doesn't mean that all those who live amongst the majorities are wrong. Kane’s demonizing of the heterosexuals is all a little too sixth-former simplistic and shallow.

And as for the play's famed violence - the technical departments of the National Theatre, who typically deliver world class stagecraft from their state of the art facilities in SE1 should be ashamed.  Kane's intention was for the audience to be shocked by her depiction of on-stage mutilation and murder. If so, then the required visual and special effects demand execution (pun notwithstanding) by excellence. Not once did I wince, nor the audience around me gasp when horrible things happened in the National’s Dorfman space. I have seen fringe productions of Titus Andronicus do better and on a micro-budget too, producing tableaux that are literally unbearable to watch. The antics in Cleansed suggested those sixth-formers again, only this time let loose with their school's prop box.

The cast put in a brave and decent effort, but on this showing, Kane's work has been reduced to poorly produced and prurient torture porn. The penultimate night’s audience wasn’t shocked but if Kane had been there, she would have been.

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