Crave & Illusions

Wed 25th – Sun 29th April 2012

reviews

Ottilie Wilford

at 09:52 on 26th Apr 2012

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As soon as the lights went down it became obvious why this play is titled ‘Crave’. The four members of the ensemble cast stand in a line facing the audience, their body language and expressions exuding desperation. The moment they begin to speak this sense of panic is intensified. The script felt markedly fragmented, undoubtedly due to the fact that on paper it reads as a continuous stream of words unassigned to specific characters. As a result the different parts utter lines that appear to bear no relation to each other. Each speak in such a quick succession that it sometimes felt like they were all talking at once. It was almost impossible to focus on one person at a time.

As the play progressed I found myself constantly conflicted between trying to follow one person’s story, whilst still being aware that the script completely forbids any such clarity. One girl was anorexic I was certain…. And I was pretty sure that one woman was desperate for a child. The overriding theme was relationships and their breakdown but I could barely even gage which man and woman were connected if indeed they were at all. Trying to piece together the puzzle with what details I gleaned came to seem like an increasingly vain exercise. The stupidity I felt in trying to impose sense upon nonsensicality reminded me strongly of Beckett, whose disjointed, inscrutable style of writing has strong echoes in Sarah Kane.

The actors in the second play ‘Illusions’ by Ivan Viripaev were practically unrecognizable as they walked on to the stage for the second time. Sitting on stools with serene smiles, calmly gazing out to the audience, they couldn’t have been further from the haunted individuals we had just seen in ‘Crave’. Instead of the chaotic outpouring of lines just witnessed, each character delivers a sustained story, lasting at least a good five minutes each. Like ‘Crave’ we receive the story in an oblique way: each figure is telling us what has happened to other people. Through these interlocking narratives we discover about the tangled love affairs between two old married couples: Margaret and Albert and Sandra and Denny. Unlike ‘Crave’ the script does not deal with the painful breakdown of love, but rather its dangerously illusory and misleading power. At one point each character is ‘sure’ they know the exact meaning of love, a certainty that is constantly undermined by the revelations of the succeeding story. On his deathbed Denny tells Sandra he feels like the luckiest man in the world to have experienced such a perfect and mutual love with her. Disturbingly it is this same character Denny who we are soon told has had a long-term affair with his best friend’s wife, Margaret.

The characters we hear about are eerily devoid of any defining features, meaning their actions feel like a comment on the human’s propensity for delusion when it comes to matters of the heart. Consequently the second play, despite its more sedate, measured pace, left me feeling no less disturbed.

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Camilla Lupton

at 10:14 on 26th Apr 2012

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Crave

The lights come up on four people dressed in various night garments standing in a row. They begin to speak, each taking their turn to utter various short phrases, sometimes lengthy, sometimes just a single word. As they continue to do so, you begin to realise that this is what the play will consist of in its entirety.

We search, almost automatically, to find a narrative in their disjointed statements, to find sense. But then we are told: ‘If this makes no sense, then you understand perfectly’. As soon as a thread of narrative emerges – a young girl who has been raped, a self-proclaimed paedophile, a young man who desires an affair with an older woman, and an older woman who desires a child – you lose it. At some moments they seem to be in dialogue, at others their comments seem unconnected. And they play with our bewildered sense of sense, asking ‘what does that mean, what you’re saying?’, and darting the words ‘Why – what – why what?’ around between each other like a steel ball in a pinball machine.

Our mind darts with them, our eyes following each character as they speak, trying to keep up. Meanwhile, they stare blankly into the audience. Indeed, they themselves are steely, cold; and yet somehow they convey emotion. They talk of love, sex, birth and death, always with a sense of guilt and shame. ‘I have this grief and I don’t know why’, one says. Nor do we.

The only movement is during a monologue about a relationship. As he lists the series of actions that constitute this relationship – making coffee in the morning, watching films together both good and bad, and a whole host of specific, yet somehow general, motions – the other three characters slowly and almost imperceptibly turn away from him. Then: ‘begin again!’, one shouts, and the lights dim, having gradually risen. These changes of lighting repeat, and give us a sense of undulation, of the tension rising and then snapping back to the start again.

Tension and intensity may be said to characterise this play. The actors are firm, direct and honest, while their characters seem panicked and confused. Sometimes there is a kind of black comedy to their lines, such as ‘when I die, it is because reality TV has killed me’. It is only when they leave the stage that we realise how soul-baring this kind of acting is. We are given no plot, no setting, no context, only their words. This may be Sarah Kane’s least outwardly violent play, but it is brutal in its starkness.

‘I crave white on white and black, but I think in Technicolor’, one says. As their fragmented utterings intertwine with and ignore each other simultaneously, we begin to understand that nothing we encounter is simply black and white. Instead, we have an ambiguous and often seemingly nonsensical play that forces us to make links, only to break them again, between these dark and often bleak characters.

Illusions

It is almost impossible not to compare Illusions to Crave. As the same four actors sit themselves down in front of an audience whose seats have been moved onto the stage itself, one begins to tell us a story, starting ‘I’m going to tell you about Denny and Sandra’. With our proximity to the actors, there is a sense of intimacy. The storyteller is engaging and warm, looking around the audience and telling her tale as though this is story time at preschool.

The tale tells of a happily married couple. As Denny feels he is about to die, he gushes to his wife of 52 years of his everlasting love for her. Her love has helped him come to realise that ‘responsibility and thankfulness’ are what is most important in life. With its immediate sense of narrative and overflow of loving emotion, this seems to be a very different play to Crave.

Yet as each actor unfolds a further piece of the tale through long monologues, recounting the following deaths of Sandra, Denny’s best friend Albert and his wife Margaret, we get a sense that these plays are not so different after all. The characters reveal their love and desire for each other’s spouses through a web of denial and deceit, constantly questioning the nature and impermanence of love. The warmth of the actors, so different to their coldness in the previous play, comes to give an almost disturbing feel to the tales. And while the story may seem elaborate and revealing, the characters remain somehow anonymous. Their names are constantly repeated, often even confused by the actors, blurring the distinctions between them.

Despite the repetition of the phrase ‘and now I’m going to tell you about’ at the start of each monologue, these events seem strangely unconnected. At one point we are told that life has ‘no single plot, just a multiplicity of snapshots and details’, and this seems to be what this narrative presents us with. There is humour, and even a softly picked guitar accompanying the speech. But the seemingly happy nature of these two couples only makes the resulting tales of fickle love and suicide more sinister. This play may begin with a storybook set up and talk of the love of literary fantasy, but it ends with characters that are in many ways just as confused and dark as those in Crave.

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