Theatre review: Crave and Illusions, Edinburgh Traverse Theatre

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FOUR ACTORS, two empty stages, two stories to tell – straight to the audience – about the yearning for perfect love, and the tricks it plays on us all.

Or perhaps eight stories, four entwined in each show, since the fundamental solitude of each human being is one of the themes of the evening.

That’s where the similarities end, though, between Sarah Kane’s 40-minute theatrical poem Crave, and Ivan Viripaev’s 75-minute storytelling drama Illusions, both presented in a single evening in this touring production from Actors Touring Company of London.

Kane’s great 1998 oratorio for four anonymous voices – two male, two female – focuses relentlessly on the core experience of love, yearning and loss, almost dispensing with ideas of character or narrative to cut straight through to the heart of the subject, whereas Viripaev’s much more accessible play, as translated by company member Casimir Liske, takes the form of a quartet of shaggy-dog stories, delivered by actors perched on bar-stools and accompanied by the odd strum on a guitar, as they explore the story of two couples bound together in love, friendship and mutual deception, over a lifetime.

It’s an intriguing combination, which asks big questions about how much theatre can and should ask of its audience, in tackling such a profound theme. Either way, though, there’s no faulting Ramin Gray’s beautiful, eloquent staging of both shows, using the same superb cast – Dearbhle Crotty, Casimir Liske, Rona Morison and Jack Tarlton – to achieve two completely different performance rhythms: the one demanding, disturbing and dazzling, the other warm, entertaining and finally tragic.

Rating: ****