ALEX STROUTS

Content note: this article has very brief mention of paedophilia, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts in a piece of theatre

C: You’re dead to me.

B: My will reads, f*ck this up and I’ll haunt you for the rest of your f*cking life. 

C: He’s following me.

A: What do you want?

B: To die.

This may sound like an incongruous selection of lines; in fact, these are the opening lines of Sarah Kane’s final play: Crave. At least, this is how the opening lines of the play are meant to read. The rest of the play follows this style, largely made up of four word sentences that could be related if you tried really, really hard to find a connection with the aid of a SparkNotes revision guide. Line learning is hard enough, let alone when there is no real story, no question-answer structure, no real conversation. Now, I’m bad at learning lines generally but when I was cast in a production of Crave at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival line learning was a real challenge.

 We had a two-week run, performing in a late-night slot.  This meant flyering before the show, persuading drunken punters that they really wanted to see a group of students playing a paedophile, an alcoholic, and a young girl with an eating disorder as opposed to some topical comedy show. By Week Two, the late nights and my increasing addiction to Millions (the sweets) as a pre-show energy boost meant I wasn’t on top form. Now don’t think this is an excuse. No, no, I’m just contextualising.  

"I hate having the first line. Having the last line is great; it’s like having the last word in an argument, but the first line is so much pressure"

Our production of Crave was set in an NHS waiting room. My chair was at the front of the stage with my back to the audience. Most importantly my back was roughly 30cm from the audience so it really was an immersive experience for all parties involved.  

 The house lights go down and B (all the characters in the play had letters for names: A, B, C and M) begins the sound-scape-come-movement-sequence that began the show. I was playing C and I had the first line. I hate having the first line. Having the last line is great; it’s like having the last word in an argument, but the first line is so much pressure.

 I see B’s movement cue and I say my line: ‘he’s following me’.

So here we have a problem. Yes, I say my line. But it's not my first line, that generally tends to start the play. It's the second one, and the third line of the show. I realise instantly, panic for a second as the fast pace nature of the play means a second is all I’ve got and B says his line. B says his first line. The correct second line of the play. Great. My turn.

  ‘You’re dead to me’.

Now I’ve just successfully said the first line of the play. Wrong order but at least I got it out eventually? Wrong. B looks at me. When I say ‘looks’, I mean looks into my soul and I know that I will probably have to clean the kitchen for the foreseeable future to make up for this. If I’d just said the second line again I would have been fine, but no. As I’ve mixed up the order of lines A isn’t cued, and because the ordering of these lines is so important to actually keeping track of the play we are in a bit of a pickle. Luckily M is on it and has actually learnt the entirety of the play (my idol). So instead of going round and round like a nightmare version of Groundhog Day and starting the play again, she says C’s line and we manage to get past the first three lines of the play. Success! I’d like to think we were saved by the incongruency of Crave and the audience were none the wiser, but the fear in our eyes and noticeably paler complexions may have blown our cover.


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Post-show I received my director’s notes. Actually, the most sparse notes that he’d written for me during the entire run. Win! All he’d written in capitals, underlined, bold and in my opinion a few too many exclamation marks than were entirely necessary: ‘ELLIE WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!?!?!?!?’ Safe to say, I had no idea what I was doing.

Luckily this didn’t happen for the rest of the run, and the director did cast me again: much to both of our surprise. However, I get regular reminders about my ‘remix’ of the opening scene. Only last term the director posted in the group chat – bearing in mind that we performed Crave nearly TWO years ago. ‘Lol remember when Ellie forgot the first line #rip.’ Yes, we do. Yes, we would all like to forget. Much like I did the line.

The moral of the story is don’t audition for plays with incongruous plots or more simply don’t forget the first line of the play. Simple.

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