Photo: Marc Brenner

Crave by Sarah Kane

Chichester Festival Theatre livestream

Crave is a tough play to watch at the best of times. Four characters, connected by different forms of despair, stand in a row and speak, but never to one another. They express deep frustration with themselves and with other people. They declare themselves to have done appalling things, or to have suffered from such things at the hands of other people. The characters have no names or genders in Kane’s script: they are A, B, C and M (the latter perhaps a Book of Common Prayer reference, “What is your name? N or M?” – Crave also quotes from the Bible and Shakespeare), and there are no stage directions.

The themes of physical as well as emotional separation make it an ideal play for socially distanced performance. There aren’t many four-handers with no contact whatsoever between cast members. Tinuke Craig’s production at Chichester played live in the main theatre each night, but was forced online by Lockdown 2. From the depths of a dark auditorium, Crave beams over the wifi into living rooms, bringing with it a powerful sense of discomfort and a strong reminder of theatre\s ability to envelop us, even from a distance.

Craig’s designer, Alex Lownde, has located the play on four treadmills, which put the four actors in motion on individual paths, which will always return them to where they began. The cast is excellent. It’s always a pleasure to see Jonathan Slinger on stage, and he makes a self-declared paedophile a character who, although we don’t understand him, we are willing to listen to. Erin Doherty is equally prominent, as a tortured abuse victim. Wendy Kweh and Alfred Enoch weave in their own dark, disconnected stories. In Crave, Kane substitutes psychological horror for the physical violence of her earlier work, and it is clear she is a poet. The quality of her writing is what makes this dark litany watchable, and leaves it lurking in our minds for days and weeks afterwards, deep into a dark November, without having sought permission.

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