I think this was the first show I bought a ticket for in lockdown. It was worth the wait (although I’m still much more interested in theatre produced for the medium of the internet than shows which are live streamed – it’s always second best).
Everyone my age who works in theatre grew up with the name Sarah Kane. She took her own life two years before I turned sixteen. My first introduction to her work was the Royal Court’s 2001 production of 4:48 Psychosis. It was probably the first time a work of art had told me life could be shit and painful but that didn’t mean it wasn’t sometimes funny. It’s a show that has never left me.
But Crave has always been my favourite of her five plays because in some ways it is the most gentle. Four voices (‘characters’ isn’t accurate) wrestle with memories of past lovers, some real and some fictional – it doesn’t matter, not when the feelings these memories evoke create such turmoil, angst and profound yearning for one human to show tenderness to another. There are hints these voices share the same space but full, intimate communication never occurs. They can only talk with themselves, which is the loneliest kind of conversation imaginable.
The production at the Chichester theatre stages the emotional paralysis of the voices very effectively The actors speak on treadmills, which during moments of particular despair that could represent some kind of catharsis speed up and prevent the voices from escaping their memories. Talking in Crave is a form of torture because it is the only way the voices know they are alive. Yet without speech they would disappear. The act of speaking is itself an act of hope; hope that continuing to live will be better than not living at all.
All of the voices speak about an unnamed city. Apart from evoking the city of ghosts in TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, it’s vagueness becomes a metaphor for how all lives are composed of countless voices that flow around us and in us. Their absence creates a silence that the voices in Crave treat as a kind of death that should be mourned for. But private grief is always unsatisfactory. Pain needs to be witnessed if it is to have any greater significance.
All the voices are screaming at the audience, imploring us to recognise: My suffering matters.
It’s difficult not to think about these themes during lockdown. Isolation is the depressive’s natural state (I should know). I cannot imagine what it must be like for those who cannot escape themselves or their home. Going for long walks, often to bookshops, is one of my coping therapies when I am in a hole. The feeling of being ‘locked in’ is one that people who are mentally ill are all too familiar with. Covid-19 has turned the world into psychic performance of depression. Crave is the perfect show to stage the psychic trauma of wanting to be outside of ourselves, outside of everything we have become too familiar with.