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Theatre ‘You’re dead to me’

Tinuke Craig’s direction makes a satisfying whole of the characters’ solitary and disjointed language, writes Jan Woolf

by Sarah Kane
Chichester Festival

THE play begins and concludes with the line: “You’re dead to me.” It is also in the middle of this 50-minute piece from the darkly poetic Sarah Kane, who took her own life in 1999 aged 28: a fact usually known by audiences.

“You’re dead to me” is aimed at a character who may have raped, abused, or spurned (we’re never sure of the relationships between C, M, B and A). But I wondered if it was Kane-talk, the you and me of a divided self.  

The reviewer should concentrate on the play, not the writer’s psyche, yet in her work they’re integral, and audiences might look for clues to the suicide; most of them content in their own core personalities.

If you were on a massive wobble, you probably wouldn’t go. Which begs the question, is Kane a writer for now? With the isolation of lockdown, fragile mental health and rise in suicidal feelings?  

I thought I might write We need the life-affirming sense of a future or Misery begets misery. But the work has an extraordinary vitality and richness of language.  

Shards of speech from the street, the Bible, TS Eliot, a painfully secret diary and psychiatrist’s consulting room form a bright tapestry.

What I take for ecstasy is simply the absence of grey is not self-pitying but furious. Tinuke Craig’s direction makes a satisfying whole of the characters’ solitary and disjointed language.  

Timing and pitch are impeccable, much like musicians in a Beethoven quartet with the same striving for love and unity. There’s a fine and relatively long speech on the pain of love from declared paedophile A (Jonathan Slinger) — how he idealises it and how eludes him.
Only love can save me and love has destroyed me, pretty well sets the tenet of the play. Alex Lowde’s staging and Joshua Pharo’s lighting are stunning, the actors on moving pathways like singular skittles in an alley, the backdrop flickering with blow-ups of the actors and their volatile inner states.  

We see that C (Erin Doherty) has “What have I done” inked on her brow. Alfred Enoch as B and Wendy Kweh’s M are equally fine. As Pinter said of Beckett: “He brings forth a terrible beauty.” And so does Sarah Kane.

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