A play by Sarah Kane
: it was first performed in April 1998, at the Royal Court Theatre
in London. Like her debut work Blasted
it is horrifically violent, but did not attract the same depth of vilification
from the critics that the first play did. At the same time it seems to be filled with the redemptive
power of love. While love does not help you win against madness
, it is the best thing to hold onto while you're losing. This is, despite its horrors, Kane's most positive play.
It is set in some kind of institution, part of a university set aside as a sanatorium for mental patients or drug offenders, but this is not completely clear. It also partly seems like a dream sequence, a drug-induced hallucination, or a future totalitarian regime ridding itself of undesirables. The head of the institution is Tinker, a drug dealer rather than a doctor, who rules over it calmly meting out torture, brutal death, and pseudo-medical experimentation. (Tinker is, incidentally, named after a leading theatre critic for a tabloid, who was one of the most vociferous in panning Sarah Kane's earlier work.)
It opens with Tinker heating up some "smack" for Graham, a drug addict. As Graham searches for a vein, Tinker grabs him and injects it into his eyeball. Later, after his death, Graham's sister Grace goes to the sanatorium looking for his effects. Tinker reluctantly admits he has given Graham's clothes to Robin, a simple-minded 19-year-old boy.
The love between Grace and Graham, and their long yearning for each other, lead her to commit herself to the institution and put on his clothes and adopt his voice and mannerisms, and eventually they make love; while the hapless Robin spends the rest of the play in Grace's frock. Robin is an innocent, and often he and Graham speak together, the same thoughts, but Grace hears the different meanings. Robin's growing love for her (she tries teaching him to write) is rejected kindly. From the sidelines, Tinker watches bitterly.
Another strand is the love between Rod and Carl. The idealistic Carl pledges eternal fidelity, and Rod gently twits him for being too impassioned about it, but accepts his love for now. Tinker hates this love too, and sets about to break Carl with horrific tortures, involving the... ah... insertion of... Moving right along, when Carl screams out his betrayal to end the torture, he cuts out Carl's tongue. On stage this was a cartoon-like violence, Tinker dragging out a long pink rubber tongue and snipping it off with scissors. The sadistic degradation of Carl continues through the play: Carl hugs Rod to show his love, so Tinker
borgs him, then cuts off his hands. Later Carl dances to show his joy, so off come the feet. Rats nibble on the severed bits. The rats were a very good effect on stage too.
There is more rape, beating, machine-gunning, stripping, masturbation, lobotomy; and finally two forced sex changes, because Tinker misunderstood what Grace wanted, and didn't understand about love.
Towards the end of the first run, Grace was injured (in an accident unrelated to the part), and Sarah Kane herself took over as Grace for a few nights. I made sure to see both versions.