Sarah Kanes’ Crave occupies a strange liminal space, somewhere between theatre, poetry and performance art. I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into the Corpus Playroom, having heard all sorts of things about Kane’s particular brand of shock theatre, and the production coming with a not insubstantial list of content warnings. However, I certainly took away more from it than I was expecting.
Kane’s writing certainly prioritises poetry over plot, and the various interweaving plot lines were difficult to follow, but I couldn’t help but feel that was almost besides the point. The words of the four characters, called A, B, C, and M, overlap and intersect in at times beautiful, at times jarring ways. Jack Ward’s direction had moments of real beauty, especially when Charli Cowgill (M) was given centre stage, and you can tell Ward really excels when she’s allowed to inject movement into the script. Unfortunately, apart from a lively beginning, the play slowly became more and more static, with a large section of the play taking place with India Lewis (C) being placed on the corner of the stage in almost complete darkness, making her actions near impossible to watch. The static blocking wasn’t always a hindrance; at times I was able to close my eyes and focus purely on the words and the beautiful soundscapes created by Talulah Thomas, easily the best sound design I’ve heard in Cambridge. Thomas’ music is what really elevated the piece, bringing us into the liminal world of the characters so fully with beautiful atmospheric noise and snatches of Donna Summer.
All four actors delivered strong, touching performances, carrying through emotion even when the plot was unclear. The relationship between Jaden Tsui (B) and Cowgill was beautifully handled and conveyed a raw, sincere relationship, almost bringing me to tears to see. Bella Ridgewell’s performance as A was chilling and nuanced, carried through with such conviction and control; Lewis felt underutilised due to the blocking but delivered a strong performance nonetheless.
Lighting was incredibly well handled by Cody Knight, with clear and intentional choices about when there would and wouldn’t be full coverage, often working symbiotically with sound to produce some stunning effects.
I would advise strong caution to those who may be even slightly affected by the content of this production, as it was incredibly challenging, even with a sensitive director. I must admit, even writing this review I am still reeling from it slightly. Ward’s decision to cast and interpret M as a transwoman yearning for a child was truly inspired, and you could tell a lot of care and thought was put into M, but I couldn’t help but feel that left the other stories being told sometimes neglected, not receiving Ward’s beautiful blocking in as great a quantity. This was most obvious in Ridgewell’s large monologue, delivered entirely sat on the floor, and the end conversation between the four voices, where I found myself begging someone to move. Perhaps this was supposed to make me feel uncomfortable, and make me beg, but theatre is as much a visual medium as an auditory one, and the balance could have been struck better at points.
Overall, I did really really enjoy Crave, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in abstract theatre or any transfemme who wants to feel seen, though I do really appreciate it is not a play for everyone.