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BY JOSH JINRUANG
PartB sits down with LSE Graduate student Katerine Everitt, the director behind the upcoming production of Sarah Kane’s seminal play Blasted by LSE SU Drama Society and Everitt Productions. Her previous show at the School, The Vagina Monologues was performed here two years ago with much critical acclaim.
What in particular brought your attention to the play?
To be completely honest with you, I was sitting at home during the summer and the bug just bit me; I knew that I wanted to direct a play at LSE this year. So from then on, it just came down to which play. Starting to flip through different plays, I knew it had to be Sarah Kane’s since Blasted’s first line: ‘I’ve shat at better places than this’. Immediately I was sold; it was daring and adventurous. It’s not something that would come to LSE otherwise so I thought why not shake up this conservative school a bit; give them something entertaining.
So, you described the School as ‘conservative’. Would you like to qualify that?
I don’t mean to stereotype, but the stereotype does exist, with all the future Goldman Sachs bankers studying here. Don’t get me wrong; I do love the School. As a General Course student, I directed The Vagina Monologue two years ago here. When I did that performance, I was really surprised by how shaken people were by it. But as it goes, the word ‘vagina’ can be very shocking to some people.
In the political science departments, there’re more progressive liberal thinkers, whereas in economics departments students are more stereotyped as conservatives. Altogether though, people come from all different stripes. As far as the arts go, at LSE I haven’t seen much daring art. The Vagina Monologues was probably the most daring thing that came out in the last two years.
It is impossible to talk about the play without mentioning its controversial reception history. How would you respond to these criticisms to the play and what some perceive as its gratuitous violence?
I think the criticisms gave great context to it; at the time it came out it was so daring and in-your-face that it was called ‘vulgar’. Part of that was because it dealt with real issues that people preferred to ignore – Bosnian civil war and the horror amongst those involved. Of course when you are confronted with something so horrific, you want to call it disgusting and filthy and remove it from your frame of mind. This play forces the audience to confront issues that they would often overlook and deal with it face on. But once you accept that, you can find the play to be surprisingly tender.
Do you think that the violence in the play would alienate the audience? There were some people who walked out of the original production.
It’s not Sarah Kane’s play if you haven’t got a walkout. (laugh) If not, I wouldn’t be doing my job, right?
On the flipside, do you think that the play’s sexual violence would still be considered shocking to contemporary audience who grew up jaded by pornography and horror films? Do you think the play would still be effective at shaking people out of their complacency?
Yes. At LSE, we study the issues about women’s health, women’s rights, abuses against women, WWII, but we rarely confront the victims face-to-face; they are just statistics on the page. What this play does is that it forces the audience to empathise with the actual victims of these violence by giving them a face, and for that alone it can still be shocking but at the same time empathetic and tender.
One of the play’s main themes is gender, in particular how Kane associates the logic of rape with logic of war. Do you think that this criticism is still relevant today?
Gender stereotypes and gender roles occur in the most banal of circumstances. And just the equality of salary doesn’t mean gender equality. There still exist roles which men and women are obliged to abide by everyday. Even though these are only manifested in the smallest of ways, they can accumulate. I think we watch the play; see the man, see the woman and relate to them. You can relate to the girl as the girl that you’ve known, and the guy as the guy you’ve known. There’s so much good in both of them, including the man as well. But you see his self-constructed role, power and insecurity. Ultimately, this is a story of power. It’s a banal rape at first, the one that happens in the first thirty minutes. It’s not as shocking and forceful as a rape typically is.
Some people would claim that the issue of sexism has already been overcome in Western society.
I think the issue of gender identity is still a relevant one today. For example, a woman can still feel insecure walking home alone. And we talk about that as well, how a man is not socially obliged to feel insecure in that sense, and only a woman can. On the flipside, most of the CEOs are men still. Gender stereotypes are still so real in the world. The play does confront that, although it’s mostly about power.
The play is such a difficult one to stage, not only in terms of its plot but the radical change in setting that occurs halfway through it. How do you plan to convey the mortar bombing scene?
Indeed, there are so many ways to stage that scene, realistically or expressionistically. On one hand, the realistic approach of the hotel room literally blown away has its merits, as it may be more relateable for the audience. But I think the scene might benefit from something more surreal as well, because it makes it almost more universal. There’s so much metaphor in the surreal interpretation. We’re just trying to make sure the audience knows it’s a bombing. That’s the goal of the bombing. (laugh) Even for the moment before the bombing as well, we want to audience to be aware of their status as a voyeur. That line of being a voyeur, which is normal for a theatre-going audience, is something again which they often turn a blind eye to. That’s where the shock happens. We try to go realistic and surreal and metaphorical at the same time. For the set, we try to go for German Expressionist design.
How competitive is the casting, especially in light of the emotional turmoil that’s involved in the portrayal of the characters?
We were quite surprised by the enthusiasm actually. We advertised to UCL and King’s as well so their drama departments could come down. (laugh) We’d thought it would be too racy for the LSE but we had a great turnout and all the actors are from LSE. All the three actors in the play, who have all had acting experience, are spectacular and they continue to impress me every time we do a rehearsal. There is this one moment when we are rehearsing and I look over to all my actors and realise how I got three strangers to come together and do some really bizarre shit to one another, gay rape for example. Shudder. Am I just an evil genius or what, I don’t know. (laugh) They are quite daring to do this, and they do it with class and taste.
Ian is meant to be much older than Cate in the text. Do the generational and racial dynamics in the play still matter since all the actors are students of similar age?
It completely matters, especially considering the theme of power within the play. But that’s why we have actors, who are meant to overcome their own identities and take on those of others’. To do that you have to get into the head of the characters, all of whom we spent days analyse. Who is Ian? Why is he so caught up with power? What’s his previous marriage like? What is his relationship with his son like? All of these are gleaned from the text but also our own interpretations. For all three actors it’s about them having full psychological understanding of the characters.
While Kane never specifically stated the Soldier’s ethnicity, in most of the previous productions the character was performed with an Irish accent, which simultaneously emphasised his foreignness without forgetting his function as a representation of an ordinary everyman. Does your casting choice take this into account?
That’s what really what the play is trying to convey: the connection between the violence here and abroad. The rape of a young blond white girl, who is so relatable in that way, compared to the violence participated and narrated by the soldier. The point is that the conflict outside is supposed to come from a distance civil war. I was thinking about Syria when this was going on, something that’s out of sight, out of mind, and very ‘other’ to our typical life. So I didn’t want to ethnically cast that role as someone who was white, just to create that feeling of the ‘other’ even more, so the actor playing that role is half-Indian, half-Italian. Besides being a great actor, he fits the bill. So to me that’s the two extremes; violence at home and abroad, which in a very stereotypical way are respectively personable and ‘other’. Of course, the soldier has a huge job. As such a violent character, he comes into the scene in an act of violence and angry all the time. While it’s difficult to relate to him, he is also relatable. He’s gone through a terrible pain, having lost his girlfriend in a very horrific way. He’s been forced into this position of power.
It’s a compensation for that reduced power, isn’t it?
Yeah. His girlfriend is raped and killed by another soldier. In this void of power, he assumes the only role of power the only way that he can by being a soldier. He hates himself for having done that so much. Whenever those bits of his personality come to light, he’s quick to get angry and cover it up and threatens Ian.
Ian is similarly defensive about his soft side and history as well.
Completely. Ian doesn’t want to show his soft side at all. He’s a complete homophobe and racist. He uses all these horrible homophobic and racist words. He doesn’t want to be the ‘Other’, the powerless, unmasculine one. It’s really interesting because he fantasises about being a soldier, and the intrusion of this more masculine ‘other’ completely undoes his own masculinity. The soldier’s masculinity also has a gay connotation to it, completely undoing Ian again. The play then ends with Ian’s humiliation.
It’s a deconstruction of masculinity, isn’t it?
And it’s a heartbreaking one at that. It’s very tragic. I suppose you can draw the parallel between the rise of far-right movements across Europe which espouse racism and homophobia, partially stemming from the insecurity over the lost of their power and relative privilege. It’s about power. It’s all about the loss of power and otherising people to create a sense of power. And they try to mask that under the banner of patriotism and mass populism. Completely. In a way, without giving away too much, the way this play ends is the most beautiful reconciliation of all these horrible things that we’ve just talked about. Some really bad stuffs happen in the play but then it ends on an almost at a place where goodness and forgiveness have really conquered the horrific things in this play, which is really unexpected but absolutely touching. And there’s certainly a sense of innocence lost in the play, but in the end the good really does won out.
It’s like a redemptive light at the end of the tunnel, isn’t it?
A little glimmer of hope for the audience to walk away with.
Why an average LSE student should want to see this play?
There are countless reasons. Firstly, Sarah Kane rarely comes to London. This is a really rare opportunity to see a cult classic. Secondly, I think all LSE students should be politically engaged and keen to be involved with something so controversial and political happening at the school. There’re so many uncontroversial, unpolitical things that are happening and they’re all great and interesting. But why not be a part of history at the LSE. I think there hasn’t been a play this controversial to ever go on here. Moreover, everybody as a potential future power player is here, where the best and the brightest go. I would hope that they can look face-to-face and empathise with the victim, with the other, with the sister, with the foreigner and really look at some of the problems we face in the world in the eye because these problems aren’t going away. Rape and civil war, they’re still there. And really just look at them in the eye.