This review contains reference to suicide.

So happy / Happy and free.

The final lines of Sarah Kane’s Crave’ couldn’t be further from how we feel as we walk out into the Edinburgh rain. The Woodplayers’ hour-long production definitely makes for difficult – and at times painful – viewing, but it’s worth it: through interwoven stories of love, despair, and survival, they have created a powerful piece that makes you feel a bit like you’ve been punched in the stomach.

Directors Alice Chamber and Helena Snider have given the play a sense of intimacy with a sparse, black set and minimal costume. The four actors have nothing but a foot or two to separate us from them. As they speak the fragmented lines to each other, we can just about make guesses about the connections that form and crumble between them. Owen Sparkes’ beautifully performed monologue about daily details of love (“And I want to play hide-and-seek and give you my clothes and tell you I like your shoes and sit on the steps while you take a bath and massage your neck and kiss your feet and hold your hand and go for a meal… ”) brings me to tears. But when he begins to speak again, a few minutes later, his are words full of menace – describing a relationship no longer loving but abusive and fearful. Love isn’t enough to save these four characters. Known only as A, B, C, and M, they have moments of warmth and tenderness with each other that are then crushed by memories of trauma: whispers of rape, incest, anorexia, paedophilia, suicide, and other agonies that seem to snuff out any light that emerges from the darkness of the text.

Kane – who died by suicide at 28 – became notorious for the shocking violence of her earlier plays, in which characters are mutilated and brutalised. There is no physical violence in ‘Crave’ – only anguish in the words spoken. Kane said of the play: ”Some people seem to find release at the end of it, but I think it’s only the release of death.”

This sense of mortality is there from the beginning: the opening line is “you’re dead to me”. While there are moments of love, and even laughter at points, it is feelings of loneliness and horror that you take away with you after the lights dim.