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Sarah Kane‘s Role in the In-Yer-Face Theatre

von Olga Kruglova (Autor)

Hausarbeit 2010 13 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur



1. Introduction

2. 2. In-yer-face theatre
2.1. The definition
2.2. Characteristic features of the in-yer-face theatre
2.3. Themes for the plays
2.4. The form of in-yer-face theatre
2.5. Taboo-words in in-yer-face theatre
2.6. Nakedness of the intimate sphere
2.7. Violence in in-yer-face theatre
2.7. Violence in in-yer-face theatre
2.8. Hot and cool version of in-yer-face theatre

3. Sarah Kane’s role in in-yer-face theatre
3.1. Presentation of the plays
3.2. Violence by Sarah Kane
3.3. Characters
3.4. Sarah Kane’s plays as an opposition to the typical three-act-drama
3.5. Language
3.6. Love and death in Kane’s plays
3.7. Direct demonstration of private
3.8. New patterns for in-yer-face theatre

4. Conclusion

Works cited

1. Introduction

“Her plays were among the most controversial of the decade”. So Aleks Sierz characterizes one of the “big three of in-yer-face theatre” Sarah Kane[1] with her shocking plots and even more shocking word choice for their descriptions. She published five plays, Blasted, Phaedra’s Love, Cleansed, Crave, and 4.48 Psychosis, one short film, Skin, and two newspaper articles for The Guardian. Her works deal with such topics as violence, also sexual violence, pain, torture, hetero- und homosexual love, incest and death. She provokes with her stories and crosses the boundaries of the normal, common reality. Which role did Sarah Kane play indeed in the establishing of the in-yer-face theatre?

The following term paper will analyze this question. It will be shown, what in-yer-face theatre is with its history, rules and peculiarities. A structured schema will be built according to these characteristics in order to allow the further analyses of Kane’s role in establishing of in-yer-face theatre concept. In frames of Sarah Kane’s five plays will be examined, which characteristic features of the movement they pick up, which resemblances these plays bear to other works in line with the in-yer-face theatre concept and which innovative contributions they have brought.

2. In-yer-face theatre

2.1. The Definition

There are a couple of definitions of in-yer-face theatre. The widest of them according to Aleks Sierz is “any drama that takes the audience by the scruff of the neck und shakes it until it gets the message.” (4) Hence it is the theatre, which touches the minds and souls, provokes and shocks in order to reach its spectators, smash their taboos and make them disgust the heroes or hate them. In other words, it invokes every spectrum of feelings, but doesn’t leave callous.

The New Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase “in-yer-face” as “something blatantly aggressive or provocative, impossible to ignore or avoid”. (962) The Collins English Dictionary adds the adjective confrontational. (855) This term appeared in American sport journalism in mid-seventies and step by step became popular in everyday language. It means that you are forcing to see something close up, so that your boundaries are being destroyed. The term in-yer-face-theatre describes such a kind of theatre, which puts the audience in the situation performed on the stage. (ibid.)

Although the origins of this confrontational theatre come to the alternative theatre of the 1960s, it was clearly defined as a new stream in the world literature only in the decade of the 1990s. .
Most of the in-yer-face plays has been staged by new writing theatres such as the Royal Court, Bush, Hampstead, Soho Theatre, Finborough, Tricycle, Theatre Royal Stratford East, and even Almeida. But also such smaller cities as Edinburgh, Manchester, or Birmingham were involved in this trend.[2]

2.2. Characteristic Features of the In-Yer-Face Theatre

What is so characteristic for this theatre? Aleks Sierz describes it in the following way: “the language is usually very filthy, characters talk about unmentionable subjects, take their clothes off, have sex, humiliate each other, experience unpleasant emotions, become suddenly violent” (ibid. 5) This kind of theatre uses shock tactics to wake up the audience and to make it feel the scenes from the stage. The writers of this movement want to investigate the human nature and its barriers and bounds; they try to question their foundations and sense. The other reason for this shock tactics is searching for deeper meaning, an attempt to see just how far they can go. (ibid.) The authors try to challenge the traditional distinctions such as good and bad, right and wrong, normal and abnormal etc. These terms are normally out of the question for us and of course questioning them becomes easily unsettling.

2.3. Themes for the Plays

In-yer-face theatre concentrates also on such things which we otherwise feel too painful, too acute or too mortifying. That’s why we avoid them, they show us all these unpleasant things, the human beings are capable of. But at the same time it lies in our nature that we are curious of these forbidden sides of the human nature and emotions associated with it. In-yer-face theatre gives us an opportunity to explore it and in this way to conquer our ancient fears about the power of irrational and the instability of our world.

The other characteristic of the in-yer-face theatre is that it must be controversial to touch raw nerves of the spectators.

2.4. The form of In-Yer-Face Theatre

The form of the presentation is a very important aspect for the spectators. If the content of the play departs from the conventional rules of the traditional drama, it is often quite difficult for the audience to accept it. On the other hand, those shocking and sometimes even disgusting scenes can appear as more acceptable within a theatrical frame and not as a naturalistic representation of some extreme unpleasant acts.

Another characteristic feature of the theatre is live action in real time with real actors. The brake of taboos happens not private but in public in surrounding of another people who also feel uncomfortable and confused. Every play is something unique in its own way that’s why every time something unexpected can happen. Live performance can make some scenes almost unendurable. Otherwise, the spectators understand that the play is something unreal, played. On the other hand they invest emotionally in it, they empathize to the actors who are always real people and breathe the same air with the audience. (Sierz 7)

2.5. Taboo-Words in In-Yer-Face Theatre

The usage of taboo words is very important in confusing and shocking the spectators, because “humans are language animals”, the words can offence them more as an act itself. These words possess some magic power, they mark a line that is not to cross. (ibid.) Like all taboos, they protect us and make the human behavior more or less predictable. Said at the stage, these words have an effect of an explosion because they are used openly and by real people.

2.6. Nakedness of the Intimate Sphere

The in-yer-face theatre is also characterized through the usage of such private and intimate situations as sex and in this case unavoidable nudity. They are also more powerful on the stage as in films or arts. They are often very unsettled for spectators because they feel offended, that’s something of what the people try to keep secret and not to show this intimacy in public.

2.7. Violence in In-Yer-Face Theatre

The demonstration of violence is impossible to overlook or ignore, it shows naked pain, suffering, humiliation and torturous death. Violence is shown literally as well as figuratively. It is primitive and irrational. It breaks rule of human morality as well as the other characteristics of the in-yer-face theatre and at the same time this unconcealed violence rouses unhealthy curiosity by the spectators, catches and fascinates them and so gets them in some kind enjoy this violence. And in this moment one can discover some unpleasant and disturbing truths about what one is. (ibid. 9)

2.8. Hot and Cool Version of In-Yer-Face Theatre

Aleks Sierz makes a distinction between the hot and the cool version of in-yer-face theatre. The hot version is usually only for a small circle of people exposed and enjoys the “aesthetic of extremism”. (ibid.) The players use a very striking language and explicit actions. Hence the impressions of the audience are unforgettable through this open aggression and violence.

Cooler version avoids radical provocations with the help of stylistic and language devices. The most usual of them is comedy. But the both sorts of this theatre are so powerful and emotional, that the actors on the stage force the spectators to react and either to stop what is happening or to come once again.

But whether hot or cool this theatre is to wake up the deepest senses of spectators and make them think over the common norms and rules. That is the main aim of the in-yer-face theatre and not to shock the spectators showing them disgusting scenes full of pain and violence.



[2] See:


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
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Institution / Hochschule
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Sarah Kane In-Yer-Face Theatre


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    Olga Kruglova (Autor)


Titel: Sarah Kane‘s Role in the In-Yer-Face Theatre