The script hurts in all the right ways, and Craig's production rightly made no efforts to soften that sting.
“Let the day perish in which I was born
Let the blackness of night terrify it
Let the stars of its dawn be dark.”
Every other production I was able to find online of Sarah Kane’s Crave included touch, hopeless wandering around the stage, and actors dressed as hospital patients, or disheveled schoolgirls. Movement in space and physical interaction would reveal more about the relationship between the four characters on stage.
Tinuke Craig’s production of Crave had everyone dressed in plain grey clothes, walking on their own conveyor belts, with a projection of their faces behind them. Kane’s play is a cutting piece that hurts with every line, and this experimental decision was another twist of the knife. This play is an excruciating work to read or watch, and it should, and Craig did a fantastic job of making the pain as visceral as possible.
In terms of design (Alex Lowde), social distancing on stage did not seem like an obstacle, but rather a necessity. The distance between the actors, facing the front and fluctuating in and out of sync with each other as they lag behind and push ahead on the conveyor belt was an ingenious reflection of the script.
The characters were related to each other somehow (pairing off with a more vivid dynamic each), and I spent the entire play trying to pinpoint what their relationship was. Sometimes there were snippets of what seemed like a conversation but would just fragment back into individual ramblings into a void.
Lowde’s approach kinetically demonstrated the characters’ regression back to their past experiences and traumas, or their pursuits to moved ahead and fight against their own emotional turmoil. So… what is the play about?
Nothing and everything happens at the same time. You can deduce that perhaps there was an affair between B (Alfred Enoch) and M (Wendy Kweh), and A (Jonathan Slinger) abused C (Erin Doherty) when she was a child, but you can’t know for sure.
The play is about love, and how violently it can hurt in a plethora of ways. It also deals with trauma, eating disorders, abuse, and addiction. In terms of thematics, this is Kane all over, but the relative tenderness to contrast the forceful dialogue strays away from her usual works which are often graphic, physically violent as well as figuratively.
The actors may have been able to look over at each other and briefly talk, argue, or torment each other, but not once were they able to touch each other. This physical starvation of each other was particularly poignant as the actors had to perform their yearning and their pain solely through their own motion and expression, unable to physically rely on the others around them.
The solitude that Kane displays in her script was captured perfectly through the acting. Jonathan Slinger was able to simultaneously play a villain and exhausted hopeless romantic; I felt both repulsed and sympathetic to A. Erin Doherty’s performance of C as a young woman who has been sexually abused, her body language matched her mental state as she crumbled at the back of the stage, hopelessly crawling in agony as the others walked forward.
One thing that I particularly appreciated was the actors’ ability to capture the humorous side to Kane’s work. Many of the productions I found exasperatedly forced out every word as if it was painful to say, and that type of approach has its place. But because of this decision, the dark humour and wittiness of Crave were often lost. But all of the actors, Alfred Enoch in particular, were able to fluently interchange between heartwrenching monologues and cynical one-liners. This versatility meant that the audience was able to have a few moments of solace throughout the otherwise harrowing hour of Crave.
Chichester Festival Theatre re-opened with a bang, and Tinuke Craig was the right person for the job. Flexible, emotionally strenuous, and potent, this was an extraordinary performance of an extraordinarily painful play.