Mental health (and the lack of it) is a reoccuring topic in the news, affecting all walks of life. While Alice Birch’s Anatomy of a Suicide has recently graced the boards at the Royal Court Theatre, its depiction of depression in three generations of women showed their external coping strategies and how this illness affected those closest to them. Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis on the other hand is a very different play and still in many ways sets the benchmark for plays on this subject. Directed by John Patterson and performed by Angel Theatre Company, the production of 4.48 Psychosis that is currently running at Baron Court’s Theatre hasn’t lost any of its raw emotional power or its ability to shock.
Not relying on one performer to play a central role, the stream-of-consciousness of Kane’s writing is divided amongst seven actors who take on the different facets of clinical depression. Between them they deftly take on such things as unreciprocated love, the end of a relationship, self-loathing, ambivalence to psychiatric medication and help, and other things that make up the 24 sections of 4.48.
All these things plague the minds of the speakers and because there’s no getting away from oneself, the pain and cries for help are cyclical. Yet within this, there is a small nugget of hope, almost too small to be noticed in Kane’s writing. Amidst all the heartache and despair, the overriding desire is for someone, anyone ‘out there’ to free from her emotional prison. Some may say that’s why she talks at length about suicide, as a way to silence the voices in her head. But this is just one course of action that’s being considered, while the sleepless nights grate on her sanity.
Mirroring Kane’s spoken words, the play’s stage set has two main components. The first – the newspaper clippings that adorn the floor and back wall – are a reminder of how ubiquitous bad news is in the world and if one were to ponder on it incessantly, it would indeed drive you to despair. The other element – chalk scrawlings on the ceilng and pillars – are an allusion to the counting down in the text of groups of seven, a test often used by psychiatrists to test for loss of concentration or memory. For some reason it also reminded me of the film The Number 23, where characters who are aware of its proliferation in nature and its relation to entropy and death, scrawl sums on their walls. The reason? To find proof its malevolent nature isn’t everpresent in the world, to find a nugget of hope…
Make no mistake, 4.48 Psychosis is at times harrowing and hard to digest. Yet at the same time, the play’s popularity internationally – particularly where conflict and death are not abstract concepts, but a very real reality – attests to its truthfulness and its raw, naked honesty.
© Michael Davis 2017
4.48 Psychosis runs at Barons Court Theatre, London until 8th July (7.30pm), plus matinee on 8th at 2.30pm.
CAST: Lara Bell, Anna Bonett, Izzy Daws, Sarah Kerr, Shanna Logan, Ciara Power, Christie Silvester