4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
When putting on a play like Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis where almost every point of staging, costume and even character can be decided by the director, it’s not unreasonable to expect a degree of originality. I’m afraid the first thought to cross my mind when three actresses, dressed entirely in black, started repeating lines in various tones of voice had to be “Oh no, not GCSE drama again.” Perhaps it’s a knee jerk reaction to black box theatre, but the most pared down set often seems to herald unwanted gimmicks in style. From the press sheet I gathered we were to see “scenes with variation in tone and form.” Variation in form, certainly, but tone? “Nothing can extinguish my anger,” cries Fran Denny’s intensely passionate main character, and this proves true for the majority of the piece. (Incidentally, the main character is identified in the press notes as Kane herself, an interesting choice that wasn’t visibly developed). 4.48 Psychosis is dark, focussed as it is on depression and anger, and director Marchella Ward seems to have chosen not to explore a great deal more beyond this. Instead Kane, played largely by Denny, receives little sympathy from her doctors, who seem more like shop assistants as they tiptoe around a patient plainly in need of their help.
The production does attempt moments of tenderness, as in Kane’s relationship with one of her doctors, played by Ben Llewelyn, but here directorial decision confuses the audience as Llewelyn is also employed as part of Kane’s fragmented personality. This supposedly represents Kane’s “struggle with her sexuality” but instead it becomes impossible to distinguish between her external and internal worlds in a manner that confuses, rather than elucidates, our understanding of Kane. The same is true of most of the more abstract scenes, where aspects of Kane’s personality are played by four different actors. Technically, they are accomplished – Joanna Damarree-Cotton stands out for her childish, gleeful madness – but the scene itself seems to hold little relation to the whole. The production is as fragmented as Kane’s psyche, and suffers for it. Only two threads maintain a link between the scenes: Denny’s deeply focussed acting, which dominates the stage and is a pleasure to watch, even if she cannot move beyond the range of anger and pain that the production has limited her to; and the constant presence of anger in every syllable of every character.
I can’t help but wonder what else an audience is supposed to gain from this production. The press notes are full of reasoning and explication – it reads, I must confess, like one of my own A-level Drama essays, which is no compliment. There are clearly some good ideas at surface level, but they come in dribs and drabs. There may be a week to go before the show opens, but it’s hard to see this developing into a performance that doesn’t leave its audience facing depression themselves – and angry about it.