Whatever you might think of Sarah Kane’s work, her place as Britain’s scariest playwright seems unassailable. I’m still haunted by Katie Mitchell’s 2016 production of Cleansed, a work in which love abuts pitiless cruelty.
When Kane burst on to the Royal Court stage in 1995 with Blasted, she and the play were met by a chorus of tabloid disapproval because of its graphic violence. Four plays followed before she died by suicide in 1999.
This revival of her penultimate play opens the Chichester Festival Theatre’s auditorium to audiences just before the second wave of Covid closes playhouses again and is also available to audiences at home who can watch live streams of the hour-long performance.
Chichester’s artistic director Daniel Evans has made a good choice. Though Crave was written over two decades ago it feels like a newly forged work. For some it will chime with lockdown and the dislocation that goes with enforced solitude. Although this is less true for parents who during the last lockdown were saddled with the job of home-schooling sceptical children, for whom solitude was a fragile thing found only fleetingly behind a locked loo door.
Kane’s staccato angst-saturated dialogue is spoken by four damaged people known only by the letters A, B, C and M played in Tinuke Craig’s shadowy production by an eye-catching cast.
Each is trapped within the narrow confines of a travelator (design Alex Lowde). The notion that there is little we can do to change the direction of our lives may be fatalistic, but it is powerfully made.
Everything is set against ghostly projections of the performers.
The conveyor belt on the far left is occupied by B, played by former Harry Potter star Alfred Enoch (better known these days for How To Get Away With Murder).
Next is The Crown’s Erin Doherty (Princess Anne in the series) who plays C, followed by Wendy Kweh’s M and Jonathan Slinger’s A.
“There are worse things than being fat and fifty,” he says. “Being dead and thirty.”
Meanwhile C conveys something of Kane’s apparent inability to escape her own demons. “I hate the smell of my own family” she spits, suggesting that home is a place where abuse is handed out as easily as toast.
Occasionally lines form part of a conversation before trailing back into stream of consciousness. And although Kane draws on T S Eliot’s The Waste Land with her use of fragmented, colliding voices, it is Beckett her brand of bleak gets closest to here.
“What I sometimes mistake as ecstasy is simply the absence of grief,” observes C in one of her most Beckettian moments.
Yet it is Slinger’s wry A who is by far the most convincing human here. Everyone else is shoutier but shallower.
In Slinger’s hands the speech in which A lists seemingly every significant facet of a functioning relationship is beyond beautiful. It is a craving that is all the more devastating for being spoken by someone who can only ever be alone.