Kane, Sarah (1971–1999)

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Kane, Sarah (1971–1999)

Provocative British playwright. Born around 1971 in Brentwood, Essex County, east of London, England; died on February 20, 1999, at King's College Hospital in London, England, of an apparent suicide; daughter of a journalist; graduated from Bristol University, honors in drama; graduated from Birmingham University, master's degree in playwriting.

Selected writings:

(plays) Blasted, Phaedra's Love, Cleansed, and Crave.

Sarah Kane, born the daughter of a journalist around 1971, grew up in a home that "went through an obsessive Christian redemption process during her youth," writes Warren Hoge. At age 17, she denounced her family's beliefs, claiming they were "a spirit-filled, born-again lunacy." Kane was interested in the theater as a teenager and directed school productions, including Chekhov's The Bear and Joan Little-wood 's Oh, What a Lovely War. After graduating with honors in drama at Bristol University and earning a master's degree in playwriting at Birmingham University, she became a writer-in-residence at Paines Plough, an experimental company. She also ran workshops for the Royal Court International in Bulgaria and Spain.

When she was 23, Sarah Kane's first play was performed in London. In her New York Times obituary, Hoge wrote of Blasted: "No play or playwright had caused such outrage since Edward Bond … 30 years earlier on the same Royal Court stage." The Royal Court has a reputation of working with frank writers, and three of Kane's four plays were presented there.

Although she was quite popular in continental Europe, Kane and her plays were the subject of controversy in Britain. She was criticized for the amount of explicit sexual and violent content in her work. Said Kane: "The reading I did in my formative years was the incredible violence of the Bible. It was full of rape, mutilation, war and pestilence." Her plays include the cannibalization of a dead baby, savage amputations, rape, and eye gouging. Many critics and viewers described her work as depraved and "a disgusting feast of filth." However, other critics praised her work for its honesty. Writes Benedict Nightingale, in The London Times: "She is not the gloating opportunist that some reviewers of 'Blasted' thought. She has no less integrity than Pinter or Bond, but, God knows, I would hate to live in her head." Kane, upset by all the negative publicity, used a pseudonym during the early run of her last play, Crave.

Sarah Kane lived alone in Brixton in South London and wrote during the early morning hours when most people were sleeping. Friends said that she talked so much about suicide that it became a joke, and her play, Crave, ends with a suicide. On February 20, 1999, while in King's College Hospital being treated for depression, she was found hanged in her room.


Hoge, Warren. "Sarah Kane, 28, Bleak, Explosive Playwright," in The New York Times. February 25, 1999.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan