‘Cleansed’ performance set to push the limits

A group of University of Cumbria performing arts students are preparing to bare all both physically and emotionally as they perform a controversial play at the university’s Brampton Road Campus in March.

Actresses Chloe Barrett and Rachael Garwood rehearse the play

Cleansed, written by Sarah Kane, can be categorised as classic ‘in-yer-face’ theatre. The play is not for the faint-hearted or prudish, with nudity, sexual acts, sado-masochism and incestuous themes.

Jessica Clulow, who is directing the play, told The Informer: “Its exciting to be part of this production, this will get people talking, there has been nudity in the university’s shows before but this is to the extreme.“It will shock people but hopefully the audience will be still thinking about it weeks after.”

Kane’s plays raise eyebrows with her method of telling a story in the most extreme way.

She attempts to challenge the audience as well as the actors who play her characters. In Cleansed she attempted to viciously test declarations of love after reading philosopher Roland Barthes’ assertion that ‘being in love is like being in Auschwitz.’

As well as the strong sexual scenes, there will also be scenes of drug use and violence.

Jessica says of the play as: “The story centres around love and the different types of love that there are. The character Robin is in love with education and her feelings for her teacher stem from there. Another form of love is grieving; a sister’s love for her dead sibling shows the pain of loss and her physical and mental torment.”

The play written in 1998 proved difficult to acquire the rights for. Jessica said: “Becky Heslop, who plays Grace in the show, came up with the idea to perform this show; she tried to acquire the rights but was turned down. I then tried and again we were knocked back. It wasn’t until our lecturer Gavin Baker got in contact with the owner of the play’s rights did they give us the go-ahead.”

The rights come at a cost of £75 per performance and the students will dig into their own pockets to pay for further production costs such as costumes and props.

Sarah Knowles, who plays a character called ‘The Woman,’ will be one of the girls who will portray masturbation and also participate in a sex scene whilst on stage, she told of how this is a liberating experience: “Taking on a role like this isn’t exactly easy, there is so much to think about, but I believe that as a person, me and the rest of the cast will change. I had confidence issues with my body but already these are leaving me and I feel more confident then ever.”

The play is set in a dingy shower block in an institute which is controlled by the sado-masochistic Tinker.

Amazingly this is Jessica’s debut as a director, she explained: “As a debut, you couldn’t have came up with a more challenging play, however its something different and hopefully this will show when it comes to audience satisfaction and also my marks.”

“There are about 20 scenes in the play but only six scenes will show nudity, but there are some extreme scenes which are a challenge to direct.

“The most extreme scene would probably be Tinker forcing the character Robin to eat chocolates he has bought as a present, scares him so much that Robin wets herself and is then forced by Tinker to clean it up and his face is forced into the urine.

Jessica, however, stressed that this is not crossing the boundaries into pornography: “If people come thinking that’s what it is going to be then they will be sadly mistaken. We have worked with Gavin Baker and also Jen Bibby, our Costume Lecturer, to make sure it doesn’t turn out to be distasteful.”
Gavin Baker had no qualms in letting the cast go ahead with the controversial play: “When they came to me and told me that’s what they wanted to do my only concern was that it had to be done well, I think at certain universities or institutions this would not be allowed but here at the University of Cumbria we treat the students as adults and give them as much freedom as possible with their artistic choices.”

The performances have been set for March 2-3. There will be approximately 60 tickets on sale per show and the prices are expected to be £4 for a student member, £6 for students and concessions and £8 for adults. For more information go to the Box Office Theatre at the Brampton Road Campus.

Steven Ramshay

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