, 1971-1999, whose first play Blasted
stunned and appalled critic
s and public with its accumulated violence
. Her next plays were Phaedra's Love
, and the actionless Crave
. Her final and posthumous
work was called 4.48 Psychosis
, after the time in the morning when psychotic
people are most vulnerable
. Most of her work was originally performed at the Royal Court Theatre
All her work is intense and breathtakingly strong, but with a curt language that is almost lyrical, and in some plays even loving and hopeful. Her position as one of Britain's greatest writers of the century is secure; alas she committed suicide at the age of 27.
Sarah Kane was born in Essex on 3 February 1971, growing up in Kelvedon Hatch; she studied drama at Bristol University, and did her MA at Birmingham. She directed a number of plays at school and university, but the only professional directing she did was of her own Phaedra's Love in 1996 and Georg Büchner's Woyzeck in 1997 at the Gate Theatre (Notting Hill). Her Crave was written for the Edinburgh Festival, and she used the pseudonym Marie Kelvedon.
She was much better received on the Continent than in Britain, and achieved almost instant classic status. Her plays are produced all over Europe in many languages. The Royal Court has at last mounted new productions of her work here. The British critics who were coruscatingly dismissive of Blasted from its January 1995 premiere couldn't keep it up as she repeatedly came up with extraordinarily inventive and deeply-felt experiments, reaching back to classic drama of the past even as she created new form; and her death only added to the aura of sacred monster around her, rendering her now almost impervious to criticism.
One thing I find essential, in reading her playscripts: every single last word and direction is meant precisely. If she repeats a word seven times, you say it seven times, not six, not eight, definitely not skipping over it, even if you're just reading it to yourself in your head. It's essential for the timing. She is reported to have said, in watching rehearsals of one of her plays, "If they don't do that fucking comma properly, I'm going to kill them".
Another thing that constantly surprises me when I re-read her, at the most awful parts of the drama, is how funny she is: very, very black humour, and often self-deprecating, but amazingly mordant and clever. You scold yourself for being shocked and laughing, because it's about anal rape or mutilation or suicide or something -- yet she makes you gasp in appreciation.
She was happy, briefly, or at least as happy as her life had ever let her be, because she was in love, while she was writing Cleansed. This explains why despite all the horror in it, it somehow has a brighter feel, as if there might be hope at the end. It didn't last. The final abstract, scattered 4.48 Psychosis is a continual cry of anger, pain, and hopelessness in her depression. She took pills again, was hospitalised again, and in there, on 20 February 1999, hanged herself, having been unable to promise her father she would not try again.