Sarah Kane’s plays, at their core, press upon boundaries of what theatre can do. As Kane once declared in an interview, she was writing to explore how form and meaning could ‘become one’. Throughout her career, Kane radically re-formed conventional notions of dramatic unity, which made her plays notoriously difficult to stage (some have even said they were “unstageable”).
I was immediately intrigued, then, when GOYA theatre company announced their production of Crave: a play whose script contains neither set descriptions nor stage directions. It simply offers the four voices of C, M, B, and A. Transforming such an abstract text into a physical performance demands an immense amount of input from any director, cast and design team who approach it. GOYA’s production, I felt, was able to produce moments of real clarity and affective power but there were weaker spots, too, where Cravefelt somewhat lost in its own matter.
In the face of such a challenging text, Sam Woof and Matilda Hadcock’s direction was adept and purposeful. At times the cast moved with a mechanical unity; at others, an individual voice (or voices) would break from the group – only to retreat moments later. Woof and Hadcock translated the text into physical action very well. Even with Kane’s more obscure moments they managed to find meaning, however fleeting.
Tom Fisher’s extended monologue, which artfully balanced fantasy with despondency, was of particular note. Mattie Williams impressed too: her ability to flick from garbled chatter about ‘pissing on the rug’ to haunting expressions of deep trauma was beautifully in keeping with Kane’s project. Nancy Case and Luke Buckley Harris also deserve strong recognition for maintaining the tempo of a such a tightly-wrapped show – no easy task. However, in this close attention to rhythm and choreography, some of Kane’s black humour, and spaces where silence could have carried dramatic potency, were arguably missed opportunities.
Crave’s lighting was also well-managed by Nicholas Heymann. Each alteration gave a sense of temporal progression in an otherwise atemporal play. It separated the production into more manageable, coherent parts – something which Kane’s four voices were, thematically, struggling to do.
The set design, too, was fascinating (and is probably the feature audiences will remember most). The cast’s neutral costumes, their slightly damp hair, and the absence of props forced attention onto the play’s surroundings. Martha Cruz’s decision to wrap the Michael Pilch Studio with a membrane of cellophane was inspired. It raised exactly the types of questions that Kane was asking: that of permeability, the capacity for destruction, and the movement between psychic layers. It also acted as a necessary buffer to the opaqueness of the play’s language, floating gently even when the four voices reached points of absolute crisis.
Although Crave’s cast – like the audience – was sometimes lost in the disparity of Kane’s text, it did manage to emerge with instances of real power. Staging Kane is never easy – nor should it be. Despite some difficulties, GOYA’s production ultimately holds onto the enduring premise of Kane’s work: what it means to love, and be loved.