For anyone unfamiliar with Sarah Kane’s work, the first reaction is often shock. This is understandable in many ways; her plays are as much an attack on the senses as they are on the sensibilities of her audiences. The trick then, for any production, is essentially to get out of the way, to let the power of Kane’s writing drive the performance. Staging Crave almost twenty years after its debut in Edinburgh, Cambridge University’s Pembroke Players are for the most part successful in this, presenting a measured and effective interpretation of the piece.

These four young actors are a very safe set of hands for what is a challenging and provocative work

Given the dimensions of the room, with three sides of the performance area facing onto two rows of chairs, director Myles O’Gorman’s use of the space is as economical as it can be, with chairs at each of the four corners defining the space. The decision to face two of the chairs upstage backfires in some sections however, with the dialogue, though clearly delivered by each player, becoming lost due to the actors basically being sat with their backs to the bulk of the audience.

Any minor shortcomings in direction, however, are offset by an excellent ensemble performance. Will Gould and Ellie Gaunt, as A and C respectively, are particularly impressive, with A’s monologue, situated about a third of the way through the piece, the standout section of the show. It is delivered head-on, with Gould facing the front of the house. The intimacy of the space enhances this section enormously; we are granted a nearness to it normally reserved for film close-ups. This is the emotional centre of Kane’s play and Gould’s delivery (his pacing, especially) is near flawless.

As per Kane’s script, there are a number of instances where the speech of one character is to overlap another’s. When done successfully, as it is for the majority of cases on the night, this feels sharp, and serves to enhance the eerie disconnect between the characters. However, on the few occasions where this is performed less effectively, it seems that the blocking of the piece plays a role, with the simultaneous movements and speech of one actor becoming muddled with another’s. As ever with Kane, it’s the tone that matters and these moments of mild confusion detract from the overall feeling of anxiety. Perhaps something could be done in terms of physical cues to make these intersecting exchanges feel crisper.

A few tweaks to the direction would enhance this production hugely. Overall, however, it does justice to the script. These four young actors are a very safe set of hands for what is a challenging and provocative work – definitely worth a look for anyone interested in seeing Kane’s work in action.

Reviews by Ryan O'Connor


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The Blurb

'Why do you drink so much?' 'The fags aren’t killing me fast enough.' Sat together by chance, four unnamed strangers unearth their darkest moments. In this post-truth world, Kane’s brutal and unadulterated tragedy is defiantly honest. One of Sarah Kane’s final works, Crave returns to the festival where it premiered in 1998. Brought to you by a creative team previously described as 'visionary' (Varsity) and behind many 'must-see' (Cambridge Student) productions in Cambridge, this retelling of Sarah Kane’s masterpiece is unmissable. 'I’m looking for a time and place free of things that crawl, fly or sting.'