Visceral and vulnerable: a review of StoneMarrow Theatre’s Crave
An evening at StoneMarrow Theatre’s Crave is a diametrical experience. The first part of the evening is an acoustic set by a local musician, cabaret-style in the front half of the Backstage Theatre. It feels like an evening out at a pub, relaxed and friendly. The night I attended (opening), Samara Von Rad delivered a great set that concluded with 80s inspiration-ballad Run With Us, best known as the end credits theme song of Canadian cartoon The Raccoons.
Then the music ends, the audience files into the theatre, the show starts, and the mood is turned upside down.
Crave affords no moments of rest for either performers or audience. For the duration of this short but intense play, your focus must remain wholly present, lest you become helplessly lost in the deeply poetic dialogue and relentless pace – not to mention the visceral subject matter.
In truth, you probably will get lost. The script, written by UK playwright Sarah Kane, is firmly non-linear and features overlapping dialogue delivered by four characters. They are unnamed aside from an initial: A (Alex Dawkins), B (Gabriel Richardson), C (Sarah Emslie) and M (Samantha Jeffery). Their stories are woven together and overlapped. Sometimes it seems like they are in dialogue with one another; then they’re delivering a monologue. Any relationships between them are suggested but not confirmed.
It’s a disorienting, visceral and immersive stream of consciousness experience, made even more powerful by this quartet of performers. They’ve mastered the script and deliver their lines without hesitation or stumbles. Dawkins’ performance is particularly impressive: she handles one extended monologue with particular grace and resonance.
There’s a constant push and pull operating at many levels throughout this production. The dialogue offers revelations, then skirts away from secrets. The actors’ movements bring them together, then apart. One performer speaks, another interrupts.
Trying to follow all four stories at once is dizzying; it’s tempting to pick one or two characters and follow their story in full. As you do that, though, an interjection from another pulls your attention away and towards someone else. You may also find yourself rejecting someone’s words and seeking desperately to tune them out or listen to someone else, because the performers are each peeling back layers of raw hurt, trauma and pain that they’re experiencing.
Crave’s subject matter is a litany of trigger warnings: rape, pedophilia, incest, addiction, eating disorders, mental illness. Kane was part of the In-Yer-Face theatre movement and while this play is often described as the “calmest” of her works, it’s still visceral and deeply upsetting. The creative team does justice to this dark material, treating it with respect and humanity.
The script includes no stage directions, just dialogue. It’s up to the creative team behind every new production of this show to envision their own world. In this imagining, the stage is broken into four quadrants and each performer inhabits one of them. They don’t/can’t leave and while they are no walls, they don’t break the invisible planes separating each section and therefore have no physical interaction with each other. The quadrants’ heights are staggered a few inches higher or lower than the others and there’s a simple prop in each: a bench, three steps, a couple milk crates, a chair.
The performers’ movements have been carefully choreographed (by Ainsley Hillyard). At times fluid, other times dissonant, there’s a poetry in these movements that lends itself well to the dialogue, supporting and emphasizing the spoken words – and at times, providing jarring but silent punctuations. It’s visually captivating.
This production of Crave is the creation of local indie theatre company StoneMarrow Theatre. Their mandate is to choose powerful, risky plays that challenge the status quo. Not only do they achieve this, they do so in a respectful way that does justice to very difficult material.
Listen to this episode of Ghost Light for an interview with the performers of Crave: Alex Dawkins, Sarah Emslie and Gabriel Richardson.
By Sarah Kane
Backstage Theatre at the ATB Financial Arts Barns
Until Saturday, January 25
Subscribe for updates on Edmonton theatre, arts and culture: