Lockdown review: Crave

After viewing the productions from Chichester Festival Theatre made free online during the spring/summer lockdown, it was a no-brainer to purchase a ticket to try out Sarah Kane’s Crave.

Watching on the night theatres close their doors to live audiences once more, it was bittersweet to see the theatre’s preamble focusing on “we can’t wait to welcome you back”. Remaining streams will take place from an auditorium silenced for the second time.

Kane’s work – four plays, one short film, one adaptation – was poorly received by critics in her lifetime (she died at 28, in 1999), but has since been reevaluated for its rich language and honest presentation of difficult subjects including rape, incest and suicide.

Jonathan Slinger in Crave
Jonathan Slinger in Crave

Crave was her penultimate work. Four characters, named A, B, C and M. No plot, no character description, no stage directions. The words can be interpreted as you wish as they tumble from each person in turn. Sometimes they interact; mostly they perform internal monologues or external howls of rage.

There are passages of quiet poetic beauty now and again, despite the general air of doom and futility. The female actors crouch and crawl at times, all are propelled by treadmills, often backwards, sometimes forwards. Harsh strip lighting hangs above; projected images flash by or hang in the air like ghosts.

The four performers are excellent. I particularly enjoyed Jonathan Slinger as A, with his disturbing revelations of self jostling with a painful vulnerability. Erin Doherty’s C is a bubble of pain, punctured and ripped apart into visceral howls of despair.

Erin Doherty and Wendy Kweh in Crave, Alfred Enoch on projection
Erin Doherty and Wendy Kweh in Crave, Alfred Enoch on projection

As B, Alfred Enoch is quieter, but no less powerful, while Wendy Kweh’s M (the author herself, perhaps, who originally wrote this play pseudonymously as ‘Marie Kelvedon’?) is a cauterising force of strength.

Alex Lowde’s set, with its fixed cameras projecting those live images mixed with prerecorded footage, attempts to pull the audience into what they are seeing, but inevitably a lot is lost on a live stream. It is probably overwhelming to see this powerful play in person, with its opening scene emerging slowly from darkness.

This revival of Crave is directed by Tinuke Craig and displays a clear understanding of both Kane’s originality and her literary and religious allusions. It is hard to separate this play and its cries for help and comfort from the author’s eventual fate, and it is not a play one can “enjoy” as such, but it is worth a look.

Crave continues as a live stream until 7 November, with tickets from £10. A digital programme will cost you £2. Book your tickets here.

Image credit: Marc Brenner