Monday, 27 October 2014

Crave - Hayman Theatre Company (26 October 2014)

Four actors, four wooden chairs, one black box theatre. Two actors in white, the other pair in black. Male, female, black, white. Nameless, elusive, damaged. Short, precise lines picked up and carried by each actor as if thoughts tumbling in the breeze. Terrible words, terrible deeds, terrible legacy. Abrupt outbursts, anger, longing, obsession. Moments of eloquence, dense passages of intense monologue. Hurt. Futility. Abuse. Rape. Murder?

Confusion, annoyance, concentration. It’s Sunday night and I’m struggling. The fractured nature of the delivery and of the stylised writing forces me to pay attention. It is elliptical and obtuse. Initially it surprises me. Then it annoys me. Then slowly, awkwardly, its rhythms and darkness fascinate me. What is it all about? What does it mean? Why do I care? How should I respond? I feel emotionally distant as if watching an ugly transgression through Perspex. Is it even real?

Ultimately, did I like Sarah Kane’s writing? No. It was deliberately ambiguous, a verbal manifestation of that blurred object that refuses to fall into focus in the extreme of your peripheral vision. Far too much like hard work on a Sunday night. On any night.

What elevates the production is the fine work of all four actors who are very good with the exacting dialogue that requires precise timing; and the direction of Savannah Wood who keeps them in motion and interacting in striking pairings. Those actors are white-clad Caleb Robinson-Cook who gives a bravura extended monologue that was an emotional assault of rapid fire words that I later learnt took the better part of 12 weeks to nail in rehearsal. I can believe it. His black-clad male counterpart is Ryan Hunt who predominantly interacts with Annika-Jane Shugrue, also in black, while Emma Smith gravitates more to Robinson-Cook.  

All of them exhibit a range of emotions as they verbally joust over the most horrible of topics. This is full on and not for the fainthearted.  A couple of choice blood-curdling screams act as both punctuation points and a sonic slap in the face to make sure the audience’s attention doesn’t waver. The chairs are used as props throughout and there is a real physical nature to the performance that adds to the verbal conundrums. This is essential as a static presentation would have lost me in the more portentous meanderings of the writing.

At the end I could not help but admire the skill and precision that was used to bring a very difficult piece to life.

But what did it all mean?

My immediate reaction was that the black and white characters were different representations of a man and woman who were in a dysfunctional relationship with an exploration of the reasons for that dysfunction and its consequences. There were lines about generations passing on events and knowledge so I initially thought each embodied a family history of sorts. Talking to one of the actors afterwards he suggested they had tackled it as four separate characters, one pairing being the parents of the troubled couple. I had taken references to 'mother' as being more metaphorical but that’s the elusive nature of the play. Any interpretation might be valid with the non-specific stage directions in the script and the lack of clarity of who is talking to whom.

So I looked online for previous reviews from different productions and pretty much none of them offered a theory other than to list themes, general observations and exhibit a fascination with T.S. Eliot. At least I wasn’t the only one who found it hard work!

I can’t say I 'enjoyed' the play but it certainly was a fascinating if dark experience that was well performed and directed.

Crave was written by Sarah Kane, Directed by Savannah Wood and starred Caleb Robinson-Cook, Ryan Hunt, Emma Smith and Annika-Jane Shugrue. 

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