Cleansed – Sydney Fringe (Theatre Review)


Montague Basement at PACT Theatre

19-23 September. You can grab your tickets here. 

Images: Clare Hawley

If Sarah Kane is resisting analysis in Cleansed (as in all her plays) then we must ask, to what end? Strapped to the confining bed of the university and the clinic, Cleansed appears to be a Foucaultian commentary on both, begging to be interpreted via it’s ambient symbolism and metaphor. Still, behind these ideas lay Foucault’s Will to Knowledge and his examination of power. What is Tinker other than a location of power at the extreme points of its exercise, where it is always less legal in character? Is interpretation the nexus of our separation or a symptom of it? What is Kane asking of her audience if not interpretation and therefore sanitization? In a society such as ours, there are manifold relations of power which permeate, characterize and constitute the social body and these relations of power cannot themselves be established, consolidated nor implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of a discourse. In writing a history, is not Kane engaging with a certain economy of discourse of truth which operates through and on the basis of this association? As her audience we are subjected to her production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth. Sarah Kane is right to suggest this act, of attending theatre in order to sanctify a truth, is a violent engagement. We bestow jurisdiction upon Kane to be our Tinker, even as we willingly enroll in the asylum.

No sooner do we attempt to liberate ourselves from economistic analysis of power, than two solid assumptions reveal themselves: one arguing the mechanisms for power are those of repression. The other argues that the basis of the relationship of power lies in the hostile engagement of forces. (As according to Nietzsche) Tinker watches the ‘action on the stage.’ The eye is in the camera. Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari posits giant screens that reflect action back to us. It is Tinkers eye, but it is also Sarah Kane’s eye. We don’t watch through the lens, Tinker watches us through the lens. In this way the two assumptions of power are not irreconcilable; they even seem to be convincingly linked. Repression is the political consequence of war, or as Sarah Kane would have us see, of violence. And so we are immersed in the rules of right, the mechanisms of power, the effects of truth or if you like the rules of power and the powers of ‘true’ discourses. Sarah Kane’s thought organization flowing through words, takes control through violent force and obedient oppression. She is violent with her characters, we are voluntarily obedient through the ‘truth’ of theatre and social compliance of theatrical attendance. In this world, analysis can only serve as a judicial system (such as our own) born of Royal Power; for Powers profit and to serve as its instrument of justification.

Analysis and criticism then, should represent the subjugated knolwedges. According to Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge) this type of knowledge is something else, something which is altogether different, such as that which have been disqualified as inadequate or insufficiently elaborated: Naïve knowledges located down on the hierarchy. To use Sarah Kane’s example, directly disqualified knowledges such as that of the psychiatric patient, of the ill person, of the nurse, of the doctor – parallel and marginal as they are to the knowledge of medicine. Is this not well represented by the presence of Robin? Robin himself constitutes a popular knowledge rather than general commonsense knowledge (which is part of subjugation and oppression). Rather Foucault (through Kane – perhaps) speaks of a local, regional knowledge, incapable of unanimity or consensus that owes its force only to the harshness with which it is countered. It is here that criticism of, for and with Sarah Kane can do its work. Interpretation, analysis, confession of feelings and affirmations of life in general are the place Sarah Kane disappears and Tinker succeeds. Depending on your perspective, it is where we are or are not cleansed.


This production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed is clever and evocative. It is grounded by strong performances such as Grace by Michaela Savina and Graham by Kurt Pimblett, but equally by the witty production techniques of Imogen Gardam and Saro Lusty-Cavallari. Cleansed is always first and foremost an exploration of how a theatre company navigate the stage directions, but Montague Basement’s overall ethic is never satisfied with mere attention to succinct production values. They embody the Foucaultian description of a local, varietal adherence to knowledges by forcing such a play into their local identities, refusing analysis, toying with construction. Montague Basement reveal they are the ideal ‘institution’ for Cleansed and what emerges is a rediscovery that is the combined product of an erudite knowledge and a popular knowledge, refusing the tyranny of globalizing discourses with their hierarchies and privileges. When Montague Basement give us this production of Cleansed, they are theoretical fulfilment of a true avant-garde. And surely this is what any Fringe Festival is all about at its heart.