Sarah Kane’s Crave is a stylistic turning point in an oeuvre of brutal physical violence that up until its release in 1998 avoided straying from conventional structures and notions of a play. Originally released under the pseudonym of Marie Kelvedon to separate the work from the artist, which by now had garnered a reputation inevitably evoking certain expectations.

Thematically at a different corner of the same ground – pain, love, rape, suicide, mental health; the motifs tying Kane’s body of work together are explored in Crave without linearity, distinct characters and a heightening of an already poetic writing style.

Placing interpretation in the hands of the director (and in this case choreographer), Julie Cunningham’s staging, directed together with Joyce Henderson pairs the four characters, succinctly named C, M, B and A, with dancers that shadow, engage and challenge their counterparts.

A shared space, though ambiguous, has been created for the isolated voices to inhabit. This gathering of psyches in various stages of longing is unrelenting and cold. Bodies fight against themselves in moments of uncertain vulnerability before control and tension seeps in to contort and stretch desires in conflicting directions.

Continually relying on each other, Cunningham’s strong ensemble holds the energy of the stage remarkably; sustaining a collective rhythm that drives the piece. With the preciseness of machinery, bodies react in sequence as lines are delivered, emotionally expressive whilst maintaining poetic nuance.

Darkness shifts across the stage as mundane sounds creep in, often unnoticed at first. Cunningham’s and Henderson’s adaptation is a tightrope walk in which the text prevails – managing to compliment the material without overpowering it.

In a culture grown sensitised to graphic violence, due to its visibility on our screens, video games and ongoing international conflicts, Kane’s earlier works fail to hit the same visceral nerve as they did at time of release.

Crave however, is just as relevant now. Seen and heard with the mindset of 2018, subtle humour regarding gender is uncovered; combined with its frank presentation of mental illness (from eating disorders to depression), the production carefully balances these elements to provide depth in which complexities gradate.

Understated and compelling, Kane’s playfulness is evident here more than ever. The approach gives clarity to the work, where otherwise disparate voices converge in shared disconnect; both internal and external. Having allowed their catharsis to flood the stage, characters depart and Cunningham provides her own apt conclusion – a question of perseverance.

Crave played The Pit at the Barbican until 13 May

Photo: Barbican