They Kept The Show On The Road
Country Life UK|November 11, 2020
Frustratingly, the curtain has fallen on stages everywhere, but there have been some valiant efforts to bring entertainment–and a superb new biography of a great playwright
Michael Billington
There is a line in the Michael Frayn film Clockwise that comes to mind at the moment. Constantly thwarted in his desire to get to a headmasters’ conference, John Cleese cries: ‘I can take the despair— it’s the hope I can’t stand.’ I rather feel that way about theatre’s attempt to return to normality. Just when it looked as if there was going to be a host of autumn re-openings, the curtain once again emphatically came down.

There were, however, a number of significant pre-lockdown events. I take my hat off to Daniel Evans and everyone at the Chichester Festival Theatre, who mounted a number of musical evenings and gave us a live streaming of Sarah Kane’s Crave.

The more you think about it, the more extraordinary this seems. Kane was an innovative dramatist who, in her short life (she died in 1999, aged 28), wrote a number of plays, including Blasted, Cleansed and 4.48 Psychosis, that extended the boundaries of naturalistic theatre. She would seem to be the antithesis of everything Chichester once stood for, yet Mr Evans took the bold decision of inviting Tinuke Craig to mount her production of Crave, originally scheduled for the Minerva, in the main house before a socially distanced audience.

Crave is not the easiest piece to stage. It is less a conventional play than a dramatised poem for four voices: two men, two women. The only time I’d seen it previously, at its 1998 premiere at the Edinburgh Traverse, the actors sat before us on swivel chairs. Miss Craig’s production could hardly have been more different: the four actors were placed on parallel travelators and always seemed to be striving for something they couldn’t attain. Subdued lighting also made it difficult at first to pick out the speakers, yet Kane’s mix of anguish and lyricism and her belief that love is both a source of imprisonment and of liberation came fiercely across.

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