Crave, first performed in Edinburgh in 1998, is one of three plays currently in performance at the Crucible Studio as part on the Sarah Kane Season.
By this stage in her career, Kane had established a distinctive style of writing, far removed from the violent action and hard language of Blasted, though not departing substantially from the main themes and concerns of the earlier play.
Where 4.48 Psychosis has the quality of an extended poem, Crave, with its rapid-fire delivery, has the pizzicato of a late Beethoven string quartet. Four players with distinctive voices, each with different tonal qualities; a phrase passed from one to another or repeated in unison; occasional plangent solos; variations in volume and intensity.
The setting is pared down to the minimum. Two rows of black rostra, one low enough to sit on. The four actors stand or sit in front of this, equally spaced, facing forwards into the audience. They change positions from time to time so that, instead of C, M, B, A (as the actors are designated) we may see B, M, A, C, or other re-arrangements.
There seem to be two sets of relationships, though these dissolve into something less tangible from time to time. An older man has had / is having a relationship with a younger woman (some suggestion of earlier child abuse); a young man seeks a relationship with an older woman who rejects him. The characters present their life experiences, thoughts and needs in rhythmic sequences of monosyllables or short phrases, punctuated at intervals by longer, sometimes very much longer soliloquies.
We are in abstract territory here. The writing is reminiscent of early Pinter, and includes reference to T S Eliot and the Bible. Action, such as it is, is symbolic, or contained in memories. Character and relationships have to be deduced from the fragments we are offered. As to meaning, this is slippery, and comes and goes at different moments, rather like listening to complex music, or looking at an abstract painting.
Charlotte Gwinner has directed Crave and 4.48 Psychosis and three of the actors, Pearl Chanda, Tom Mothersdale and Rakie Ayola, are performing in both. In 4.48, Gwinner opts for very slow action and delivery, which means that the audience has plenty of time to ponder the significance of every word. The relentlessly fast pace of Crave is impressionistic, like being in a moving train, so meaning is imprecise but not ungraspable. Gwinner’s direction is entirely in keeping with the style of the plays.
As with Pinter, depth of characterisation is essential. This is much easier to achieve in the slow-paced 4.48 than in the fast-moving Crave where it takes tremendous concentration from the actors just to keep the language flowing. All of the actors are technically superb and the effect created is impressive. Christopher Fulford, particularly, manages to retain depth of characterisation in the fast-moving sequences and is particularly effective in his long soliloquy.
It has been a privilege and a significant learning experience to see the impressive revival of Sarah Kane’s work in the current Crucible programme. It was a brave decision to stage the work of a controversial and challenging playwright, which has been completely vindicated by the quality of the work and the enthusiastic response of the audiences.