Content warning: This review mentions suicide
Crave is a wonderful return to live production for Chichester Festival Theatre.
The 1998 play by playwright Sarah Kane features four characters – C (Erin Doherty), B (Alfred Enoch), M (Wendy Kweh), and A (Jonathan Slinger). The piece continues Kane’s tradition of exploring form and dark, uncomfortable themes. Crave is a fragmentary, poetic work – elusive and seeped with allusions (particularly biblical and to T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land). It’s a play that lends itself extremely well to 2020 – both for socially distanced staging and due to its themes of loneliness (or being alone) that will be recognisable to many after the effects of Covid 19.
This production embraces isolation in full. The set-design by Alex Lowde features each actor standing on their own quasi-conveyor belt. The floors of these move regularly, allowing each actor to move with or against the momentum of the belt to create motion, energy, and friction for each character within their isolation.
The belts all have cameras fixed at their fronts, leading to a live stream of clips of each actor being projected to the back of the stage. These are often meshed together to create a collage of anguish and anger, while some pre-recorded material is occasionally included, adding an abstract layer to the piece. At the start of Crave, the video feed feels like it is secondary to the action on stage, but as the play progresses this projection gains meaning and autonomy to the point where it feels like another character itself– a force that combines these disparate people and expands the scale of their pain. Lowde and director Tinuke Craig deserve credit for finding a way to have use this technology without undermining the spaces of the characters on stage.
One of the very best aspects of this performance is that it avoids being obsessed with Sarah Kane and her suicide. Instead, it propels her work forward and finds a way for her words to remain relevant today. Enoch discussed this in his interview with us last week, which you can read here. Enoch said the play “can really speak to our times and our experiences now” and pointed out that it is “a useful thing to resist” using Kane’s mental state to interpret Crave. He also stressed that “it is the point of departure and the point of return… Crave is the text; Crave is the play.”
Enoch is just one quarter of a terrific cast – all of the actors find a fantastic overlapping rhythm that illuminates the poetry of the piece, and also counteracts their spatial delineation. Particular highlights are Slinger, who is captivating in his turn as the nihilistic and grief-stricken A (his delivery of the monologue on love and relationships is perfect) and Erin Doherty, who is the physical fulcrum of the play. Her pain and self-loathing manifest in frenetic, fretting movement and awkward, angular contractions; her control over her body allows her to control the auditorium, sending waves of heartbreak through the audience.
It’s immensely saddening that Crave’s run is to be cut short for in-person audiences due to lockdown (although live streams will continue for the whole run); but this show is still a triumphant return for CFT and hopefully a herald of future live theatre to look forward to.
Crave is playing at Chichester Festival Theatre live until 4th November, and streaming live until 7th November for tickets and more information see Chichester Festival Theatre’s website.