Chichester Festival Theatre: a play for our times

REVIEW: Crave by Sarah Kane, Chichester Festival Theatre
Crave - photo by Marc BrennerCrave - photo by Marc Brenner
Crave - photo by Marc Brenner

No sooner had the festival theatre reopened after seven long, dark months than with dramatic tragedy the new lockdown has snuffed out its autumn season within days.

But the intervening window was just long enough to provide us with a handful of performances in the main house of Crave - the only salvaged item from the spiegeltent, like a minor family treasure rescued from the blaze at a stately home.

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Never was there a play more suited to its time. Four socially distanced characters make lonely progress on individual treadmills speaking as much to themselves as each other of all their innermost anxieties, loves and grief.

Less than an hour in all - the selected performance had to be brief enough to guarantee the carefully assembled, separated and masked audience did not require an interval - few plays better capture the isolating mental anguish that so many of the population are facing.

In its own way, this was perfectly produced with Erin Doherty, Alfred Enoch, Wendy Kweh and Jonathan Slinger giving poetic voice to the nameless faces that resonate utterly in tune with today.

It is doubtful that this would ever have found its way into the main house in any other circumstances; and even had it done so it had little chance of enjoying commercial success.

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Audiences, a few months ago buoyed by the excitement of a sunshine filled lockdown and contradictorily empowered by its austerity, will view this one quite differently. As the rain and wind lash, humour, distraction and sheer dramatic fun have never been more needed. Crave is none of this and many will find it simply too painful or obscure for their current taste.

But it will be remembered, with a nod of respect, for its embodiment of the theatre's briefest season yet.

Performances - both in person and live streamed - will continue up to and including Wednesday (November 4) and then streamed only until Saturday. Other planned productions might also find some sort of dramatic life through streaming.

Gary Shipton