>constant craving by nus theatre studies programme

>reviewed by sherrie lee

>date: 9 nov 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the fort canning black box
>rating: not rated

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Taking on Sarah Kane as a final year project was a bold move. The playwright's intense dialogue and unsanitised version of reality could have been clumsily handled or badly (mis)interpreted by the audience. While both happened to a certain extent, the final-year students of the NUS Theatre Studies Programme nonetheless did good by sharing the world of Sarah Kane with the public.

Kane was an explosive young talent whose year-end student showcase piece 'Blasted', which dramatises the brutalising effects of civil war on western society, brought her to the attention of a London agent. Her subsequent plays continued to receive mixed responses of condemnation and praise. On 20 February 1999 at the ripe old age of 28, Kane hanged herself. Within the short span of her playwriting career, Kane ripped apart the veneer of sensibility, good manners and rationality.

The choice of 'Phaedra's Love' and 'Crave' showed off Kane's deft manipulation of greek tragedy on the one hand, and her sensitivity to the vulnerability of the human spirit on the other.

>>'The NUS Theatre Studies Programme did good by sharing the world of Sarah Kane with the public.'

'Phaedra's Love' (1996), a reworking of the Greek myth of Phaedra's love for her stepson Hippolytus, was an unabashed reference to the British Royal Family and the political situation of that time. Performed to an audience largely ignorant of the political implications, 'Phaedra's Love' lost its original sting, making the focus of Kane's play the depraved, "sex-because-I'm-bored", Hippolytus (Colin Cheong). Cheong, in his singlet and shorts (and a disgusting sock), was easily the strongest actor, followed by Charlene Cai who played (in uneven dramatic tones) Phaedra, the queen obsessed with her stepson to the point of committing suicide to cope with his rejection of her. The advances Cai made towards Cheong were sometimes a little too performed to be credible, making the seduction scene less riveting than it could have been.

Less than what could have been was also the mob (who were no Greek chorus) and Theseus (Zachary Ho). Hard to blame Ho since Theseus suddenly appears at the end to slug it out with his son and rape his stepdaughter.

The play was most successful simply in its being performed. It was liberating to see a classic tragedy updated to facilitate the playwright's motives but programme notes could have drawn the parallels between Kane's work and the political situation. Actually, the programme book could have been given out even before the doublebill started (It appeared after both plays ended). Going in without any notion of Sarah Kane was not the best preparation for the audience.

In view of that, 'Crave', could have been perceived as an agonising journey through four streams of consciousness, admittedly aggravated by a lack of visual distraction in the form of uniform white costumes and a total reliance on the voices of the four characters, not all strong enough to sustain the roller coaster journey of spilling guts.

The 4 voices/characters, A (Zachery Ho), B (Colin Cheong), C (Joyce Yao) and M (Koh Wan Ching) represented (as found out later in the programme book) an Abuser/Author/Anarchist who longs to love and be loved (A), a Boy who yearns for love (B), a Child who faced a traumatic childhood (C), and a Mother, an older woman who wishes for a child (M).

It seemed like a pairing of A & C and B & M but one could never really be sure with the dialogues, or rather, monologues made up of poetic fragments and recurring motifs. 'Crave' was both engaging and disengaging. It attracted the audience's attention to each individual's obsessions and on/off relationships with one another. But it also alienated those who sought clarity though the mess of confessions. Not a play to illicit quick emotions, 'Crave' challenges both actors and audiences; for the actors to fulfill the potential of linguistically charged emotions and for the audience to leave convention behind and partake of Kane-defined climaxes and denouements.