For a playwright whose work is often characterised by violent action, the leisurely atmosphere in the Michael Pilch Studio minutes before Crave started, elicited by the French music playing, felt like being lured into a false sense of security. This unease was especially emphasised when faced with the set, sheets of plastic strung out and covering the floor to create the impression of a temporary room. This Dexter-esque scenery, with the sheets backlit to reveal cast members lurking behind them, contrasted with the calming music to establish an uncomfortable, but captivating first impression.
Sarah Kane’s Crave marked a move away from her violent work to a freer, more lyrical style, and indeed this production is advertised as one that ‘blurs the boundaries between theatre, poetry and dance’. Crave was written with no plot, no established characters, and no stage directions, proving a notorious challenge to any director. The play, though jarring and often nonsensical, raises themes of love, or love lost, maternity, mental instability, abuse, and death, among other things, through what seems like a continuous stream of text broken only by harrowing monologues and shocking physical outbursts. It is hard to know what to expect from an interpretation of any of Kane’s plays, but Crave successfully left the audience lingering after the show, thoroughly disturbed.
From the beginning, I felt slightly let down by the costume choices of each character. The ‘wet hair look’ they all shared was a nice touch that emphasised their frantic states, and this was slightly enhanced by their casual attire, featuring leggings, joggers, baggy tops, and in one case a button down shirt. However, what the costumes were perhaps attempting to symbolise or express did not successfully come across, and sometimes distracted from the acting. I would have liked to have seen the haunting nature of this play reflected more in the costume.
Attire aside, what made this play so powerful was the excellent direction by Sam Woof that utilised the entire stage, from Mattie Williams huddling in the corner watching events unfold with a disconcerting grin, to all the characters walking at speed in random directions while impressively delivering their lines at a matched pace. The incorporation of the set into the movement was particularly effective in the two separate moments where the temporary walls were ripped apart. Nancy Case’s prolonged ripping up of the sheets took an admirable amount of commitment and energy, rewarded with an increasingly invested audience. Quite literally, being in the front row places you amidst the tantalising chaos, with plastic falling at your feet and characters standing within reach, making for a convincingly tangible performance.
The performance was made up of brilliant choreography, each movement a deliberate effect, with moments of beautiful physicality. Notable examples include Case and Williams turning in unison with their backs against each other, gazing in wonder at an unknown above, and when Luke Buckley Harris gripped his knees and rocked himself to create the impression of a plane moving whilst Case leaned back against him. There were other, more subtle, moments, such as Harris and Williams’ mirrored stroking of their arms, which created brief, beautiful respites amidst the disarray. Although moments of the play saw characters not entirely in sync, and the plastic sheets did trip some of the actors up, none of this took away from the dynamic and impressive flow of the movement.
Tom Fisher was particularly powerful in the confession of intense, obsessive love his part harboured for William’s character. He commanded the audience’s attention with his emotional distress and shaking, and his face reddened with emotion in the most heated moments. Mattie Williams also deserves to be recognised for a consistently harrowing performance, her expressions and body language never faltering from a convincing state of torment, and her ability to distort her body in the more physical moments looking especially realistic. Moreover, it was a feat in itself to make the audience of such a disturbing piece laugh, but Harris succeeded on multiple, appropriate occasions, providing more brief reprieves that made the rest of the play all the more uncomfortable.
Kane’s own voice could be felt through this performance, which made a difficult-to-understand play one that left its audience haunted. With many praiseworthy aspects, the cast and crew should be lauded for tackling such a difficult piece and successfully forming a stylistically impressive show. It would be odd to write that the audience were left wanting more, but as an ominous green light led them off stage, I was enthralled enough to almost follow.