As Theatre du Pif and Windmill Grass Theatre join forces in bringing (yet another) Sarah Kane play to our stage, John Yip talks to the actors and directors about their take on Crave.
There’s been a conspicuous surge of Sarah Kane adaptations in Hong Kong recently, with Polish company TR Warszawa and Hong Kong theatre veteran Lee Chun-chow presenting 4.48 Psychosis and Blasted respectively at the Hong Kong Arts Festival and On and On Theatre’s New Writing Theatre Festival in the past few months. Now two of Hong Kong’s most cutting-edge companies have joined the Kane wave in what will also be their first stage collaboration. Theatre du Pif and Windmill Grass Theatre are staging a Cantonese adaption of Kane’s penultimate play, Crave, directed by Theatre du Pif’s Bonnie Chan.
“I’ve never done this kind of work and neither has Windmill Grass, I believe,” says Chan, who admits the choice will be a challenge to both parties. “Hopefully we can spark off something new artistically,” the soft-spoken director giggles gently, before commenting on the playwright’s partially poetic, partially abusive colloquial language, which is adorned with a strong sense of humour. “Sarah Kane has used the English language in a big spectrum.”
In the play, reportedly Kane’s personal favourite and arguably her most lyrical, the playwright presents four characters, namely A, B, C and M, all deliberately named to resist any connotation; overall, Crave evokes various aspects of human nature – all of which are traumatised by infidelity, loneliness, familial rejection, childlessness and, as the title has it, the endless need for love. Adopting an unconventional structure for the one-act play, Kane has taken out her signature stage violence from previous works and replaced it with minimal stage directions and an absence of a clear narrative, which have left the actors at their wits’ end.
“Unlike other plays that have a more linear structure, we need to look for the characters between the lines,” says Windmill Grass’s Luna Shiu, admitting that it takes time to understand the character she’s playing. “It is both the fun and the challenging part [of tackling a Sarah Kane play].”
Windmill Grass’s Joey Leung, on the other hand, is having a hard time interpreting the script because of the lack of a linear structure: “I am the kind of the actor who needs to know the logic and my relationships with other characters completely. This, however, is all not possible in the case of Crave.”
As in Kane’s other works, the play addresses directly the innate emotions, deep fears and the need to be loved common among human beings. It’s no surprise for actress Birdy Wong, clearly exasperated in her attempt to speak sensibly of her latest role, to describe the play as ‘a world without end’. The cast of four is pushed to the edge of the cliff where they must face the suppressed emotions, amidst profound insecurity. Indeed, assistant director Sean Curran’s comment on the play is similar to what one may otherwise say of music: “[The audience] may not understand it, but [the play] will touch [them].”
“The questions that she’s asking – ‘why are we here?’, ‘what is reality?’ – are so urgent,” says Chan, noting the increased interest in Kane recently. She is confident that her audience can connect with the play no matter how abstract or philosophical it may seem at first glance. Curran adds that Kane’s ‘authentic voice’ is what today’s world, unfortunately filled with shallowness and phoniness, has longed for. “I believe [the play] will touch them, only in a way they are not used to.”
While the play is vastly different from what Windmill Grass Theatre usually puts on stage, actor Edmond Tong is excited about bringing something different – something new – to their devoted fans. “It is an adventure – and even we don’t know where the destination is.” So for those who wish for a night of relaxation after work, Crave may not nearly be an ideal theatre experience. But if you’re prepared to confront the darker sides of human nature and be sabotaged by the cruelty of humanity in Kane’s eyes, you are more than welcome to crave for the opening of one the most exciting productions of the summer.
Crave 狂情 is performed at Arts Centre’s Shouson Theatre Jul 12-22, in Cantonese. Tickets: 2734 9009; www.urbtix.hk.