Sarah Kane (3 February 1971 – 20 February 1999) was an English playwright who is known for her plays that deal with themes of redemptive love, sexual desire, pain, and death—both physical and psychological. They are characterized by a poetic intensity, pared-down language, and exploration of theatrical form. Kane herself, as well as scholars of her work, identify some of her inspirations as expressionist theatre and Jacobean tragedy. The critic Aleks Sierz has seen her work as part of what he has termed In-Yer-Face theatre, a form of drama which broke away from the conventions of naturalist theatre. Kane’s published work consists of five plays, one short film (Skin), and two newspaper articles for The Guardian.
Born in Brentwood, Essex, and raised by evangelical parents, Kane was a committed Christian in adolescence. Later, however, she rejected those beliefs. She studied drama at Bristol University, graduating in 1992, and went on to take an MA course in play writing at the University of Birmingham, led by the playwright David Edgar. Kane struggled with severe depression for many years. However, she wrote consistently throughout her adult life. For a year she was writer-in-residence for Paines Plough, a theatre company promoting new writing, where she actively encouraged other writers. Before that, she had worked briefly as literary associate for the Bush Theatre, London. Kane died in 1999; taking her own life.
Kane originally wanted to be a poet, but decided that she was unable to convey her thoughts and feelings through poetry. She wrote that she was attracted to the stage because “theatre has no memory, which makes it the most existential of the arts. No doubt that is why I keep coming back in the hope that someone in a dark room somewhere will show me an image that burns itself into my mind.”
A change in critical opinion of her work occurred with Kane’s fourth play, Crave, which was presented by in Edinburgh in 1998. The play was performed under the pseudonym of Marie Kelvedon, partly because the notion amused Kane, but also so that the play could be viewed without the taint of its author’s notorious reputation. Crave marks a break from the on-stage violence of Kane’s previous works and a move to a freer, sometimes lyrical writing style, at times inspired by her reading of the Bible and T.S. Eliot. It has four characters, each identified only by a letter of the alphabet. It dispenses with plot and unlike her earlier work, with its highly specific stage directions, gives no indication what actions, if any, the actors should perform on stage, nor does it give any setting for the play. The work is highly intertextual. At the time, Kane regarded it as the “most despairing” of her plays, written when she had lost “faith in love”.
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