Writer: Sarah Kane
Director: Jessica Rose McVay
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
There have been many pretenders over the years but no one has come close to creating the sheer theatrical poetry of Sarah Kane. Taken far too young at the age of 28 her plays first shook and then changed the British theatrical landscape. In studio spaces up and down the country her fingerprints are all over modern play texts. Her name is as synonymous in A Level Theatre classes as Sophocles, Artaud and David Hare. Any production of her work now has to compete with a legacy, taking it away from classroom theory and straight into the theatrical space. Jessica Rose McVay’s production of late work Crave by and large succeeds.
Its form is that of a text for performance, one that moved away from the physical stage violence of her earlier work and into a spiritual violence that traps these characters in the darkest realms of their soul. Its style is deliberately broken, a fractured world that inhabits these broken souls. Eleanor Bull’s set, with burnt out cars and bloodied mattresses is a physical representation of a Waste Ground, whose titular work by TS Elliott so inspired Kane’s text.
It’s a work of Biblical proportion, one that stays clear of obvious narration and puts into form the screaming nightmare of mental illness. We see patches of illumination about possible cause; childhood abuse at the hands of a molester, an uncaring mother, the struggle with modern life, the minor (terrible daytime television) and the major (deviant sexual behaviour, self-harm). Yet it is never made explicitly clear whether this is solid fact or purely moments of psychosis.
The works most powerful word is free. It is a word that pops up constantly and is the last word uttered in the text; free is the state all characters aspire to. Watching now, it’s difficult to remove the writer’s biography from the work. In a way, she set herself free when she took her own life in 1999. Are these characters, especially in the central character C, determined to do the same?
McVay instructs her cast to deliver the text at a clap which is both the right decision- no one would want this work dragged out- but one that arguably robs us of fully comprehending Kane’s text. The poetry of devastation can’t breathe, instead, it ends up being an all-out auditory attack on the senses, its potency building from the sheer weight of words thrown out instead of their deeper power. It’s a rare case where another ten minutes may have added to the works undoubted power.
She has brought brave, frayed work from her four strong cast. Rosie Gray and Chris Jenks portray some form of alternative couple/parental figures, while Ross O’Donnellan disturbs as a predator whose Irish accent is far from a musical lilt. Yet it is Georgia Frost as C who stands out. It is hard to describe star quality in words but whatever it is, she has it. Your eyes are constantly drawn to her withered drawn out face, her heavy wearied movements, her every word hitting the target without overstressing a consonant. Just for a moment, you believe that the writer is in the room so completely does she inhabit the role.
It’s never an easy watch but Crave brings to an end a highly accomplished season of Director’s Cuts work from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Challenging and thought-provoking it is a clear demonstration of what the season offers at its best and why it has become an essential part of the Bristol theatrical calendar.
Reviewed on 23 May 2017 | Image: