Reviews Edinburgh Published 28 May 2012

Crave/Illusions

25th - 26th May 2012

Reflections.

Colin Bramwell

‘A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves’, and so we see the beginnings of a summer that has so delighted the populace of this country who are otherwise deprived in this regard. We might love this indication while contemplating other ongoing grey springs, or even reflecting on transition. The Meadows in Edinburgh has this past week been filled with all sorts of such people: soon-to-be graduates and undergraduates, cricketers running from wicket to wicket, children playing in the sunshine unaware of time’s wingéd chariot, hippies tanning in the beating sun banging out endless, repetitive, monotonous rhythms, and so on. Everyone is drinking beer. There is an air of happiness which can only exist with the expectation that, come tomorrow, everyone will revert to their usual state of haggard dissatisfaction under cloud cover.

All of which are unforgivably ‘Thought for the Day’ types of observations, reeking of Elgar and Matthew 5:45, which tells us that God ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ They are concurrent, however, with ATC’s latest production, which deals in an analogous brand of dualistic comparison between two very different playwrights. In fact, the decision to place Sarah Kane’s Crave and Ivan Vyrypaev’s Illusions in opposition is the crux of the whole endeavour—so it seemed confusing that the audience had the option to buy tickets for one or the other (a downside to egalitarianism perhaps.) Nevertheless, we encounter both playwrights at points of thematic similarity, so the process does feel like a conversation. Although Vyrypaev’s play sometimes strays into lecture territory, it is the conversation which provides the locus for an insightful, ambitious, and complex production.

To this list we might add bravery. The plays themselves have at least one commonality: both are performed almost entirely without distraction or spectacle. The only substantive visual element was a very effective slowly-pulsing light throughout Crave; otherwise they rely almost entirely on oral delivery, proximity to the actors, and the quality of the writing. Truthfully, there was something rather liberating about the lack of artifice. Both plays were spoken, despite a few performative hiccups, with respect for the language, and still managed to avoid striding into disembodied radio-play territory (although this would not be an inappropriate method of delivery either).

Crave is the stronger of the two pieces. Ramin Gray’s decision to use simple body language channelled the audience’s focus into the words themselves, which worked well with the specifically ‘literary’ elements of the play. The pervasive references to Eliot are only one aspect of a large tableaux of a mind, or four minds, in torment. Kane’s play is brilliant because it both overwhelms and forces cognition, and the production achieved this end. 

Illusions, a kind-of bittersweet comedy, is an intimate piece, performed with much eye contact. The audience are forced to sit on the stage itself, and are quickly joined by the actors on four stools; which felt a little like being invited onto the set of a particularly ponderous episode of This American Life that is, for some reason, being presented in the style of The One Show.

There are moments when Illusions becomes a prism through which to refract the far more elusive Crave; at other times the play manages to extricate itself from Kane’s miry individualism into something more adaptable and communal. While the production of Crave seems designed to engulf, Illusions unfolds more slowly, allowing the audience time to make connections between the two plays, and attempt to figure out the differences and similarities between the two individual approaches: a process that certainly yields.

The structural suggestion, however, that the second play should be seen as a reply to the first, was a little problematic. Justifiably, some may feel that art does not need to be considered beside autobiography: however, this production does not shy away from the fact that Kane’s suicide seems to now be indissoluble with her work.

Crave originally debuted at the Traverse, so perhaps it is unavoidable in this case. However, it is quite uncomfortable that Vyrypaev is made to respond with his own suicidal character who dies lovelorn and who we are repeatedly told has a ‘very good sense of humour’. We have experienced, to a small degree, this ‘good sense of humour’ in Crave, a play that Kane wrote when she had ‘lost faith in love’. The biographical detail ceases to inform; at this point the plays no longer converse, but instead collide together as if by fluke or happy accident, and the result feels like a heavy-handed rejoinder, at times even a rebuke—which may have been more justifiable if Illusions was of equal quality to its interlocutor. However, once we settle in to Illusions, and look past the relief of levity, it slowly dawns that we are watching a rather self-indulgent play. Other opposites begin to creep in, that are not thematic or ideological but precipitate questions of worth that should probably not arise in such a symbiotic production. Comparing the two became, towards the end of the latter, a little like comparing a brilliant if introverted young mathematician to a man in his late thirties who has a degree in theoretical physics, and is all the wiser for it, but repeats himself a little too often to be fully trusted. In order for Illusions to have worked better as a companion piece to Crave, the former would have to be trimmed; when placed next to Kane’s tight, precise, more fully realised piece, however, Illusions seemed a little flabby.

It is not only a disposition resulting from good weather that might allow us to forgive the production its flaws. If the aim was to precipitate a kind of dualistic approach to themes that retained the complications and nuances between points of view while avoiding singularities, then the Crave / Illusions double bill was not an unqualified success. It was, however,  challenging enough to hold the attention and ambitious enough to command respect.

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Colin Bramwell is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Crave/Illusions Show Info


Produced by ATC

Directed by Ramin Gray

Cast includes Jack Tarlton, Rona Morison, Cazimir Liske, Derbhle Crotty

Link http://actorstouringcompany.wordpress.com/

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