Friday, 20 March 2009

Sarah Kane

You reach a certain age in life where – well, for one thing, where it becomes very natural for you to begin a sentence as dismally as ‘You reach a certain age in life…’
Where was I? Ah yes. No, but really. Over time you may well get to the point where you start to see your university contemporaries popping up all over the place in public life. I went to a university that was pretty big on drama and media, indeed I expended most of my own ostensible B.Sc study-time staging plays and writing/editing on the student paper. Consequently I’m always pleased to see my ex-collegiate editors appear on the telly, whether Peter Hyman on Newsnight, or the radiant Susannah Reid on BBC Breakfast, in-between her maternities. Today I noticed another student paper associate, Tom Chesshyre, in the Times, and it seems he has a newish book out.
And on the drama side of things – I’ve never even seen Little Britain and yet still I find it hard to avoid David Walliams/Williams on TV. Most eminent of the drama bunch, I suppose, was the late playwright Sarah Kane. Last weekend I was in company with someone significantly older than either Sarah or myself, who has already made a close study of the Kane oeuvre as part of an English/Drama qualification. Naturally, talk turned to the first, celebrated/damned production of her play Blasted at the Royal Court in 1995. I was then asked if I could say what Sarah was ‘like’? Well, I knew her only slightly, the proof of which is probably implicit in the fact that I found her always very friendly and engaging and full of drive. In other words, she didn’t strike me as a depressive – but then, I’ve subsequently learned that no-one ever does until you know them extremely well; and even then, ‘the ruin is within’, as the poet said. But Sarah certainly struck me as a full-blown artist, perhaps the first contemporary I’d met close-up who’d had that effect, mainly because on the one occasion we shared a rehearsal space she so clearly knew exactly what effect she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid to shout about it.
The last time I caught sight of her was in 1998 at the Edinburgh Festival where she was presenting her play Crave and I happened to be curating a season of films by Alan Clarke, most of which, I was delighted to see, Sarah came along to. I should have guessed there would be an affinity for her in the uncompromising nature of Clarke. After a screening of Made In Britain that had knocked the audience dead, or so I thought, Sarah came up afterward to give me an affable bollocking about the poor sound quality. Very finical, you see. Six months later she was gone. But I see that only the latest of her revivals, 4.48 Psychosis, is blessed with and animated by the presence of Isabelle Huppert. A powerful testament, and there will be more, for sure.

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