Robert Tanitch reviews Cleansed at National Theatre/Dorfman
“There is an enormous amount of depression in Cleansed because I felt an enormous depression when writing it,” said Sarah Kane in 1998, shortly before she committed suicide.
She hanged herself. She was only 28
Kane was famous for her graphic portrayal of violence.
The critics had lambasted her first play, Blasted with such phrases as “disgusting feast of filth… nauseating dog’s breakfast… like hanging your head down in a bucket of offal… unadulterated brutality without any dramatic merit… catalogue of lurid on-stage depravity.”
Kane’s plays, admittedly, were extremely violent, deeply disturbing and unpleasant to watch. She was always more popular in Europe than in England.
It has been reported that people have been fainting and leaving the National Theatre in disgust, which is always good publicity for the box office.
Katie Mitchell’s revival is set in some totalitarian prison. The dilapidated building is brutal, the lighting is sharp and the sound effects are harsh.
Actors in black suits, bare feet and balaclavad heads are constantly making make quick entrances and exits. It’s all very surreal. People carry umbrellas indoors and walk backwards. Flowers grow out of the floor.
Actors spend much of their time dressing and undressing and appearing in the nude.
Katie Mitchell’s production is very efficient. The cast of seven has been choreographed. I felt I was watching dance theatre.
So, if you enjoy watching people being humiliated, degraded, tortured and you also enjoy watching people simulating sex, having sex changes and being forced fed and killed, then Cleansed could be the ideal entertainment for you.
On the other hand you might well think that this revival, clever though it is, proves conclusively that any merit Sarah Kane’s repulsive play may have, has been grossly over-rated.