It’s the conundrum at the heart of Sarah Kane’s penultimate play, Crave (live streamed via Chichester Festival Theatre until November 7) in which four people — together onstage but always isolated — offer up fragments and clues and dislocated memories that flow like a river, sometimes a torrent of pain, sometimes a trickle, at others a persistent drip wearing relentlessly away on rock. Only, the rock here is the human psyche.
Tinuke Craig’s revival understands that constant pain turns people into living ghosts, the walking dead. It understands the terrible cruelty of that. The isolation. The illusion that you are still living when you are actually dying inside.
Photography by Marc Brenner
This is a production that makes clever use of lighting (Joshua Pharo), film (Ravi Deepres), music (Anna Clock) and movement (Jenny Ogilvie) to suggest that trauma is a kind of haunting, one from which it can feel as if there is no escape. Actors Erin Doherty, Alfred Enoch, Wendy Kweh and Jonathan Slinger — all superbly restrained, and always just so — are located in Alex Lowde’s design on four separate tracks that lead only to the oblivion and darkness they both welcome and resist.
Resistance comes in many forms from self-delusion to flares of blazing, bitter humour. Directors so often forget that Kane was a very funny writer. Take this: “Depression’s inadequate. A full scale emotional collapse is the minimum required to justify letting everyone down.”
The violence so apparent in Kane’s earlier plays, Blasted and Cleansed, is all internalised here, but it’s no less shocking. I reckon we understand trauma rather better than we did more 20 years ago when Kane wrote Crave, and its companion piece 4.48 Psychosis, the terrible twin which was her final play. Just as Blasted interrogated the way violence infects personal relationships, so Crave shows the violence trauma inflicts upon the self. A self that is in a state of disintegration, like a firework burning in vivid colours as it falls.
The danger of Crave is that it’s poetry can make it seem beautiful rather than ugly. It can feel inert. It requires a toughness that Craig and her cast supply. The effect is like falling into a ghost story. It sends a shiver down the spine.
Crave will be available online until Sat 7 November. You can watch it here.