Sunday, September 24

Crave – 53two, Manchester

Sarah Kane’s poetic masterpiece Crave marked a significant departure for the playwright when it was first performed in 1998. Whereas Kane’s previous work had featured graphic violence and sex, Crave relied on language. A quarter of a century on and it is clear the power of Kane’s words has hardly subdued.

Four characters – A, B, C and M – take to the simple but beautifully-lit stage under the atmospheric 53Two arches. A black curtain backdrop and four stylish grey chairs are the only set dressing. This could be a waiting room or a therapy session or both those things or something else entirely or nothing at all.

What follows are four haunting monologues or conversations beautifully interwoven together in a way that is almost impenetrable and yet totally understandable on a human level.

Imagine four trains hurtling, sometimes almost uncontrollably, towards a destination. Perhaps the same destination. At times the train lines seem clearly independent of each other and at times they merge at junctions with a clash of electricity and emotion and energy. The trains share the journey, share a thought, share a feeling.

Much of Crave is open to interpretation. A directorial dream but also a challenge. Chris Lawson and his fantastic cast have risen to that challenge. Crave is gripping and moving, leaving the audience with both answers and questions.

Some clear decisions have been made. Every inch of the playing space is covered. Characters reach forward and stand back as the dynamics change but they also play with levels. Stood on chairs, sat, crawled in a ball on the floor.

Photo: Shay Rowan Photography

The physicality is both lyrical and deep but also totally clear. Focused on an intention.

At times, it feels as though there are six characters on stage. Dylan Tate’s moody lighting design and Eliyana Evans’ heartbeat-inspired soundscape play crucial roles in the story development. The tone perfectly switches from despair and trauma to tension and, ultimately, some form of hope.

All four performances are brilliant. Special mention to Elizabeth Meadows, as C, who is a heartbreakingly believable victim. Etta Fusi, Jake Ferretti and Matthew Heywood also deliver something nuanced and complex. They all defer to the power of the language. Who knew there were so many different ways to deliver the words ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘OK’?

The speed of delivery is extraordinary. There were a couple of dips in energy or focus but that is to be expected. Keeping these trains on their tracks is not easy.

At the heart of Crave is Kane’s script. Some of the themes are pretty dark. The extensive list of trigger warnings includes abuse, rape and paedophilia. However, the play is ultimately a study on the complexity of love and connection.

There is an acceptance of our complicity in the pain we cause each other and a good dose of nihilism (“no one survives life”) but there is also beauty and some optimism here.

Kane channels both Shakespeare and the simplest of everyday dialogue. This is pure poetry.

Crave is not for everyone and you may well need to be in the right mood to experience it. However, HER Productions has created a near perfect way to connect with the play. The theatre company is fast becoming one of the most important in the North West.

Let the language wash over you and trust that its power, intelligence and beauty will win. Or, in the words of the playwright: “if this makes no sense then you understand perfectly”.

Crave runs at 53Two, Manchester until 4th June. For more information and to purchase tickets:

Reviewer: Peter Ruddick

Reviewed: 1st June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.