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Barbican Centre, London

Crave
3.0Reviewer's Rating

Sarah Kane’s Crave is experimental theatre that abstracts feelings of craving something or someone. Cunningham and Henderson’s production takes the form of disturbing monologues combined with dance; one woman will recite while her words are interpreted in dance by her non-speaking avatar. The choreography provides us with a grip on the emotions of these disembodied female voices, serving to visualise their thought processes, materialising the immaterial.

Crave starts with all the actresses sprawled out on the floor. They appear like collapsed ball-jointed dolls, awkwardly adjusting themselves in a parody of human articulations. The aural landscape is as important as the choreography here in establishing the ambience, or rather lack thereof, by conveying a sense of discomfort. Sounds of hustle and bustle, traffic, carnivals, table tennis, waves, tapdance and a fairground organ are played over the speakers; these stereo recordings are loud and penetrating, making it feel as if you are gliding above a city.

The costumes are different tie-dye t-shirts and jeans, cutting off parts of the wearer’s anatomy with geometric blocks of grey on white, turning their physical forms into living abstract art. The speeches they issues are quite dissimilar, some rebellious and some melancholy yet all unstable-sounding, reminiscent of Beckett’s Not I, except Crave is multi-vocal. Kane’s monologues bubble to the surface, present themselves and then disappear with a pop. The chorus toys with the audience’s response, being incomprehensible at one moment then brutally clear-cut at the next, such as when a vignette of paedophilia emerges in gory details, purple throbbing tumescence and all.

The unifying theme of these monologues is that these women are either confined by being craving or craved; expletives, exclamations and diatribes communicate the sense of being bound up in the fury of craving. The ‘And’ monologue (Anna Martine Freeman) is a prime example of how fluctuating one piece can become, transforming from affectionate prostration before an unresponsive lover to horrific obsession; later Anna’s dance avatar jostles with her to demonstrate how the violence of her ardour. Paranoia abounds, with Hannah Barrie complaining of maggots crawling around and inside her like a disturbing surreal nightmare, amensia too in Hayley Carmichael, who frequently drifts off in her speech while staring into space.

There’s a tinge of dark comedy to Crave as well through flashes of whimsy during moments of crisis, where characters laugh at what is meant to be quite serious, such as going through an affair and having sex with a black-out alcoholic. Although there are these glimmers of humour, not much can be salvaged from these despairing monologues, which is something evident in the play’s veiled references to The Waste Land: shadows and red rocks (“Come in under the shadow of this red rock”), an insistent end-of-serving pub call (“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”), mysterious third bedmates (“Who is the third who walks always beside you?”) and things which passeth understanding (“Shantih shantih shantih”). Kane makes an analogy of these women’s lives to Eliot’s desolate and barren tundra over which tortured voices melt and shriek.

My issue with Crave is that most of it is quite forgettable, given its nature of shapeshifting. It is only an hour-long, but it’s a great test of your attention span to discern anything actual from it, and I don’t know if you’re meant to at all. If you privilege effect over content, then Crave succeeds in evoking a haunting menagerie of wronged women, but if you want something concrete then this isn’t quite for you. However, there are some flawless pithy lines – “What I sometimes mistake for ecstasy is simply an absence of grief” being my favourite.

  • Experimental Theatre
  • Playwright: Sarah Kane
  • Directors: Julie Cunningham and Joyce Henderson
  • Cast includes: Anna Martine Freeman, Julie Cunningham, Hannah Burfield, Nina Bowers, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Barrie, Hayley Carmichael, Carolyn Bolton
  • Barbican Centre, London

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