Sarah Kane

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Sarah Kane (born February 3, 1971 in Brentwood (Essex) , † February 20, 1999 in London ) was one of the most radical representatives among modern British playwrights and directors .

Between 1995 and 1999 she wrote five pieces: Bombed , Phaidras Love , Cleansed , Greed and 4.48 Psychosis . Kane has directed his own and others' plays in productions for the group Paines Plow at the Gate Theater , London.


Sarah Kane's parents were both journalists and very religious. Kane graduated from the Drama Departments of Bristol and Birmingham Universities with a degree in drama and scenic writing . In January 1995 the world premiere of the first play Zerbombt ( Blasted ) took place at London's Royal Court Theater . The piece caused open controversy due to its theme - interpersonal relationships in times of war - and the brutal manner of presentation. However, the scandal was followed by Europe-wide performances of the play. Bombed is considered to be one of the first works by In-Yer-Face-Theater .

In May 1996, staged Kane her second play, Phaedra's Love ( Phaedra's Love ), at the Gate Theater in London. In 1997, she has directed Woyzeck by Georg Büchner ibid. Then she wrote in 1997 Cleansed ( Cleansed ). Also in 1997 she wrote the screenplay for the short film Skin , which was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK.

Since 1996, Kane has been a resident writer at the Paines Plow Theater in London, an independent theater group that only presented and produced new plays in readings. In this capacity, she wrote Greed ( Crave ) in 1998 . She used the pseudonym Marie Kelvedon for the first reading at the Bridewell Theater . In the same year the play was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival at the Traverse Theater . Kane's last piece, 4.48 Psychosis ( 4.48 Psychosis ), was written in autumn / winter 1998/99 , the manuscript of which she handed over to the publisher in February 1999, shortly before she committed suicide . In June 2000 it was posthumously at the Royal Court Jerwood Theater Upstairs premiere . It is the culmination of Kane's writing in terms of fragmentation, breaking up of clear perspectives or roles and poetry.

Sarah Kane suffered from bouts of depression that got much worse in the summer of 1998. As a result, the author had to go to clinics for treatment more and more frequently. Sarah Kane committed suicide on February 20, 1999 at the age of 28.

Literary and dramatic creation

All five pieces by Sarah Kane deal with the theme of love in times of destruction, mutual manipulation and dependence. Her oeuvre, limited by her short life, is one of the most controversial that shaped the scandalous English theater scene in the 1990s. Despite the relentless and undisguised depiction of physical and psychological brutality or cruelty with a simultaneous tendency towards violent stage language, the narrow oeuvre of Sarah Kane differs from that of other playwrights or authors of her time, not least because of its dramatic and literary breadth.

Kane's work was inspired by popular culture at the end of the 20th century as well as by biblical or mythological motifs. Her major dramatic role models included Samuel Beckett , Harold Pinter , Edward Bond and Dennis Potter .

Despite all the brutality, Kane's pieces repeatedly illustrate the triumph of love and humanity, sometimes in an almost naive but touching form. Her only partially ironic optimism in view of the violence and perversions of power she thematized was often viewed as problematic by the recipients of her works and probably explains the uncertainty of reviewers and literary critics in both the conservative and liberal English press. Immediately after the premiere, their first piece, Blasted , was sometimes denounced as a “disgusting feast of filfth”, as a “disgusting feast of filth”. In contrast to other authors of her generation, Kane was the victim of an obviously organized publicistic defamation or denunciation campaign, against which even the renowned English playwright Edward Bond felt strongly obliged to take action in her defense.

In Germany, Sarah Kane's work has been received positively, if not enthusiastically, since her debut. Peter Zadek staged both her debut work Blasted and her third play Cleansed in 1998 at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, while English critics only began to appreciate her work after her suicide.



Even her first piece, Blasted , which initially begins as a relationship conflict in a realistic setting, gradually dissolves through extreme situations. Through the alienation of reality and symbolic events, the people are transported deeper and deeper into the abstract reality of a war, until finally, reduced to their instincts in short snapshots, they find a - albeit less hopeful - togetherness.

This dissolving of familiar structures, the break-in of surreal situations and extreme violence enables a level of abstraction that makes even the smallest elements of physical and psychological violence in interpersonal relationships clear and expands them to include global dimensions. Symbolism, reduction and abstraction function as a catalyst in the representation, which enables and shows a connection between triviality and extremes.

Bombt deals with the depths of the relationship between the protagonists Ian and Cate, who are in a hotel room. Ian rapes Cate there, triggering a chain of violence. A short time later, as a punishment, so to speak, he gets to feel the effects of the war that prevails between the two characters and which is superficially triggered by Ian, on his own body; namely by a soldier who suddenly appears out of nowhere, first raped him and then sucked his eyes out.

After all, the world in the hotel room is just as destroyed as that on the street. Cate, who fled from Ian, returns to him at the end of the play. She hasn't forgotten what he did to her - but she sees in him a human being who needs her help. Because of her psychological predisposition, Cate cannot do anything but chain her own life to that of Ian; she is a (clinical) masochist and he is her counterpart, a (clinical) sadist. The piece ends with Cate giving Ian something to eat and he thanks, which is definitely a punchline, since it is probably the only "successful" communication of the couple in the piece. When it came out, the play was partly heavily criticized because of its brutality (e.g. in the newspapers Daily Mail , The Sunday Telegraph , The Spectator ). Today the play is considered to be groundbreaking for the English theater scene of the 1990s, both in its radicalism and in its minimalist language, as well as in the successful combination of the psychological dimension (the couple relationship) with the political dimension (the war). The second part of the play, the onset of the great war in the small private war, was not part of the play in an earlier version of the play that Sarah Kane performed with students in 1993 and was influenced by the images of the Bosnian war in the former Yugoslavia written.

Phaidras love

The play was written in 1996 as a commission for the Gate Theater in London and staged by the author herself. Phaedra's Love deconstructs the ancient Phaidra - Myth and hopeless love is a queen to her sex- and esssüchtigen lethargic stepson. Kane starts from Seneca's version of the Phaidra material and claims to have read neither the version by Euripides nor Racine. Phaidra loves her stepson Hippolytos, whose life is made up of food, television, sex and masturbation. Kane reverses the idea of ​​purity that Senecas Hippolytus carries into its opposite and describes Hippolytus as a failed existence, the only value of which is truth. By remaining attached to this idea of ​​truth, he too is in a certain sense a pure figure. After the sexual contact between Phaedra and Hippolytus, she commits suicide and spreads the rumor that Hippolytus raped her. Hippolytus does not want to defend himself and is murdered by the angry mob. Through the explicit depiction of violence in the last scene, Kane reverses the convention of classic tragedy of letting everything happen off- screen.


Cleaned shows the inmates of an institution who are controlled by Tinker, a psychiatrist or torturer. Kane leaves open whether it is actually a psychiatric clinic (according to the director's instructions the play is set at a university, which is not discussed in the dialogues). Each inmate is in love with another, and Tinker uses manipulation to push everyone to the limit of love. The piece addresses the question of what is the highest that a lover can honestly promise to another. In experiments Tinker inflicts pain to the extent of mutilation to others in order to find out what power love has over them. After all, the inmates are mutilated and wear each other's limbs, skin or clothing on their bodies - the self has to give up, to transcend .


Greed is Sarah Kane's first piece that dares to break identities and roles. Four voices appear - A, B, C and M - which speak without any recognizable connection and yet address these fragments to one another. Kane's language experiences a very dense imagery and poetry . Also autobiographical traits can be recognized - the very detailed declaration of love from A to an unnamed person is full of details and incidents that give the impression of truthfulness. Even stronger than the autobiographical element, however, are the postmodern quotations from u. a. Shakespeare, TS Eliot, the Bible and Samuel Beckett. This deconstructs language as a means of communication. All that remains are empty words. All voices articulate their respective strong desires for solution and salvation - it remains open whether this can come through love or through death.

4.48 psychosis

4.48 Psychosis names the moment of greatest clarity in the title; during her bouts of depression, Kane woke up at 4:48 a.m. and was able to think clearly, unaffected by medication. At the same time, this moment is the one with the greatest psychotic component; so there is delusion in clarity. Specifying the exact time of 4:48 may be an artistic means here, but the "early morning wake up" around four or five o'clock is a well-known phenomenon of depression.

The piece is a string of monologues, strings of words and numbers, and supposed dialogues, but without acting persons ( dramatis personae ). In the texts, however, it becomes clear that Kane describes her own experiences during the depression and the hospital stays. However, 4.48 Psychosis is not just an autobiographical work. Rather, it constitutes a further step in the construction of Kane's works: from civil war to war of a family, a couple, an individual and finally consciousness.


Skin , an 11-minute short film, was the only work Sarah Kane produced for television . This medium remained suspect throughout her life, as she was of the opinion that the images she wanted to create through her pieces could not have their full effect there. Another attempt to make a film about a woman suffering from anorexia failed because of Kane's wish that the images should only be shown from the perspective of the protagonist. No TV broadcaster wanted to agree to only show fragments of the character.


Sarah Kane commented on the form of her pieces as follows: “My plays certainly exist within a theatrical tradition, though not many people would agree with that. I'm at the extreme end of the theatrical tradition. " Sarah Kane's pieces show a great evolution. While Zerbombt and Phaidra's love are considered naturalistic and this is due to their clear, reality-related stage directions, Kane moves away from a defined and playable form more and more. Stage directions push the limits of what is feasible - in Purified One says that rats carry the feet of one of the protagonists away. However, Kane always preceded her work with the remark that stage directions should have the same status as spoken text. The fact that directors always reach the limits of implementation when staging the plays is obvious with the fragmented and at the same time extreme description. Kane thus makes demands through the themes as well as the form of her pieces, without providing solutions.


Sarah Kane herself was indifferent to the reception of her pieces: "The one thing I don't think is the responsibility of playwrights is telling people what to think about the play afterwards." Her pieces sparked heated controversy and were also awarded prizes . In Germany , for example, in 1999 and 2000, Kane received the award of the best foreign playwright twice. She has been made by critics the flagship of a movement that, according to her, did not exist. Despite certain similarities with other playwrights of their time, such as Mark Ravenhill , Joe Penhall or Jez Butterworth , which one tried to describe with terms like In-yer-face Theater , new brutalism or theater of urban ennui , their work differs in many respects from that of their contemporaries. There are references to William Shakespeare , Georg Büchner , Beckett , Howard Barker , Howard Brenton and Edward Bond .


  • Corinna Brocher, Nils Tabert: Sarah Kane. All pieces. Rowohlt TB, Hamburg 2002 ISBN 3-499-23138-7
  • Sarah Kane: Complete Plays . London 2001 ISBN 0-413-74260-1
  • Jutta Rosenkranz: "I write the truth and it kills me." Sarah Kane. In: Line by line, my paradise. Eminent women writers, 18 portraits. Munich 2014 ISBN 978-3-492-30515-0 pp. 319 - 341
  • Graham Saunders: "Love Me or Kill Me". Sarah Kane and the Theater of Extremes . Manchester 2002 ISBN 0-7190-5956-9
  • Aleks Sierz: In-Yer-Face Theater. British Drama Today . 2001 ISBN 0-571-20049-4
  • Graham Saunders: About Kane: the Playwright and the Work . London 2009 ISBN 978-0-571-22961-1
  • Verena Auffermann : Sarah Kane: "Death is my lover" , in this., Gunhild Kübler , Ursula March , Elke Schmitter : Passions. 99 women authors of world literature. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 2009, pp. 246-251
  • Eva Spambalg-Berend: Dramas of Abjection. Dealing with the "forces of horror" in Sarah Kane's plays. Scientific publishing house Trier 2017. ISBN 978-3-86821-713-1

Web links

Commons : Sarah Kane  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Sarah Kane: Complete Pieces. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag 2003. ISBN 3-499-23138-7 , p. 13.
    Iain Fisher: Sarah Kane overview. In: Retrieved October 29, 2008 .
  2. See Anja Müller Wood: Kane, Sarah . In: Metzler Lexicon of English-speaking authors : 631 portraits - from the beginnings to the present. Edited by Eberhard Kreutzer and Ansgar Nünning . Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01746-X , 666 p. (Special edition Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, ISBN 978-3-476-02125-0 ), p. 312. See also the review by Gerhard Joerder: Stake in the flesh: Peter Zadek staged Sarah Kane's “Cleansed” in Hamburg. In: The time . December 16, 1998, archived from the original on November 15, 2016 ; accessed on February 20, 2019 .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 11, 2005 .