In our latest feature, Lindsey Huebner interviews Alfred Enoch about opening Crave at Chichester Festival Theatre. They talk about disorientating theatre, the dramaturgical benefits of live-streaming, and the challenges of staging Kane.

Content warning — this article mentions suicide.

Alfred Enoch is an actor with an impressive career spanning stage and screen — from treading the boards in the West End revival of John Logan’s Red to starring in the hit series How to Get Away with Murder, not to mention playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films – the man’s got an enviable CV to say the least. He is gracious enough to Zoom-meet me on a precious lunch break on his most recent project, Sarah Kane’s Crave at the Chichester Festival Theatre. 

Enoch’s involvement in Crave began with director Tinuke Craig giving him a call. After a first read, Enoch thought to himself, “I don’t know what’s going on here and that’s maybe a good thing.” Indeed, the text’s at times opaque nature and disjointed feel is sure to baffle, but Enoch is not perturbed, saying, “It’s nothing if not exciting. In a process like this, you don’t want to feel like you know all the answers, and it’s not like you ever do, but it’s quite exciting to feel like you have so little.” Indeed, this is quite possibly a factor in Kane’s continued legacy over a decade after her death.

Playwright Sarah Kane had an earth-shaking career despite its brevity, with a body of work that continues to move and shock audiences around the world. Kane died by suicide at the age of twenty-eight, and while it may be tempting to project some of what we assume she may or may not have been thinking at the time into the interpretation of the piece, Enoch points out that “I think that’s quite a useful thing to resist. The text is the point of departure and the point of return. It’s useful to find things that offer provocation or excitement or allow you to uncover things, but I think it’s important to keep a hold of the fact that Crave is the text. Crave is the play.”

Unlike productions that are filmed once or maybe twice for the likes of NT Live, once Crave is up and running, every show is to be live-streamed as well as performed live for a socially distanced audience, integrating the live-streaming and audio-visual elements into the piece itself. Enoch describes these elements as “something that will be embedded into the texture of the production — I think that’s really useful because this play feels to me like that can really speak to our times and our experience now. We watch things through screens, divorced from what the thing really is. That’s us; that’s Crave.”

Crave as a text certainly defies the tropes of “well-made plays,” forgoing a clear beginning, middle, and end, and characters with easily definable relationships and clear intentions, and it appears this production will be no exception. As Enoch says, “We’re so used to having a more narrative-driven form of storytelling.” With regards to what Enoch thinks the audience reaction might be, he continues, “I imagine one of the interesting things this play will do is it might frustrate people. I imagine I’d be sitting there going, ‘What? But he — What’s that got to do with that?!’ I think it’s quite a disorientating experience. And I think that’s good and exciting. Out of it comes a very human need to try and impose order; to try and make sense; to try and find the clues. We found this in rehearsals. At first, we wanted to crack it. You think, ‘I’m gonna work it out.’ That’s not the game; but part of the game is that you need to do that — that you want to do that! So I don’t want to let the audience off the hook.”

When dealing with forms that differ from our narrative-driven comfort zone, Crave often does away with binary notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Enoch harkens back to an experience in a theatre in Berlin watching a piece that his director friend called, “super-Deutschy” and recounts, “[The piece] came to the end and I thought, ‘I don’t have the language to judge this’, because my taste is so different that I think I’m aware of my limitation in terms of being able to meet this work where it is. So I can just observe what it’s done to me — and maybe that’s a good thing anyway! Perhaps it’s not so useful to say, ‘Is it good?’, ‘Is it bad?’ – maybe that’s not a very interesting question. Or at least it’s a very simplistic one. It does say something about our particular tastes when it comes to theatre in this country and I think this piece really does challenge that.”

With a week until opening at the time of this interview, Enoch says, “There is a lot to unearth and we’re still doing it. It’s been invigorating — the play requires you to be proactive, to make choices and to try things out because nothing is going to track the whole way through — you have to be flexible and you have to be inventive; you have to try things out.” And indeed, this seems to be exactly what this illustrious company is doing, changing tack as incongruities are discovered, forever asking, in Enoch’s words, “What else can we find; what else can we use?”

Crave appears to be a play for our times as we come to terms with this amorphous landscape we have found ourselves inhabiting. Creatives have often been the ones to light the way in making sense of unprecedented times and with such thoughtful, passionate actors as Enoch on the case, I find myself being cautiously optimistic, despite it all. It is on this note that I leave Enoch to the remainder of his generously donated lunch break and return to half-baked isolation, craving theatre as it was; and intrigued as to what it will be. 

Crave runs at Chichester Festival Theatre from the 29th October-7th November. It will be live-streamed globally from 31st October-7th November. Visit the Chichester Festival Theatre website for more information.

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