Thursday 30 June 2016

4:48 Psychosis - Theatre Review

What: 4:48 Psychosis
Where: Metanoia Theatre
When: 29 June - 2 July
Written by: Sarah Kane
Direction by: Kendall-Jane Rundle
Peformed by: Alisha Eddy, Kendall-Jane Rundle, Jessica Stevens, and Jeff Wortman
Costumes by: Jessica Allie
Lighting by: Shane Grant

4:48 Psychosis is the latest play being presented at Metanoia and is produced by Bare Naked Theatre. It is the last of six published plays by British Playwright Sarah Kane and has been staged all over the world.

Kane suffered from serious clinical depression throughout her life, and 4:48 Psychosis looks at depression, but more specifically it investigates psychotic symptomology. Because of this and because she killed herself shortly after writing it, people often make the assumption this play is about her. We do not know this, but it is true that she is on record as saying 'Do what you want with it, but know that writing it killed me'.

Kane as a writer was strongly influenced by Expressionism and Jacobean Theatre. Her writing life began in poetry but she moved into writing drama because ' has no memory, which makes it the most existential of the arts...'. Kane gives no indication of staging or character or how many actors could or should be used, but instead has written a dramatic poem. The Jacobean influence lies in it's episodic structure. The expressionism lies in the removal of character and experiential affects of the writing. Her poetry shines through in the onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, and word placement on the page amongst other devices.

The world Kane has created is a world of the mind, not an outward place or location. The stage at Metanoia has been left bare to reflect a cavernous non-world which is clever and effective. It is minimalist in design which is, again, a really appropriate choice and Grant's lighting design works well to deconstruct normality of both the world and the stage. I particularly like the use of dangling lightbulbs which, as well as breaking up the space, come to represent the firing of neurons and the concept of ideas and thought. In the first countdown scene he cleverly uses them to escalate the desperate groping of the mind as the bodies in the space chase order. For those who have read the script you will also enjoy the spatial corollary which has been echoed here as well.

In my opinion the biggest problem with the production is Rundle has not made a choice whether to be a performer in the play or the director. Obviously Bare Naked Theatre is a vehicle for her to highlight her talents, but this production desperately needs an outside directorial eye both to unify the artistic direction of the play, but also to hone in the performances themselves. The pace is slow and everything just feels imprecise and unfinished.

I have listened to Rundle's interview on SYN and it seems to me she has missed an important piece of understanding about Kane as a playwright and indeed, this play in particular, which is why the production falls a bit flat generally.

In the interview Rundle talks about this production being 'truthful' and 'intimate' and 'human', and 'true to interpretation'. She goes on to say that she is resisting being dramatic and creating abstract interpretations of this modernist play.

Here is the problem - Kane is an Expressionist and has used post-dramatic techniques in her writing. This is not a modernist work and is a rebellion against realism and naturalism. It is meant to be experiential and devoid of identifiable character. It is part of a collection of works from the 1990's dubbed "in-yer-face" theatre. Rundle is trying to make us 'care' about a character in both the direction and her performance but you can't create a fully formed character with a linear trajectory because there is none, so the real impact of the work and any understanding of the experience of psychosis is completely lost.

Having said that, there are one or two moments which expose intriguing insights including the countdown scene I mentioned earlier, and the visibility scene as Rundle storms up the stairs. These moments work precisely because they break the realism form,

I do recommend seeing this because the truth of this play is most accurately exposed by it being mounted many times with a range of interpretations. This production has a place within that panorama.

2.5 stars.


  1. I saw it Thursday,
    did you catch the RS production circa 2006?

    I like how the play exists on the page, I do not need to see it performed, tho I did gain something from seeing it performed.

    1. Hi Chris, I have only seen it in performace once at VCA about a year or so ago. I really liked what they did with it.

      The reality is it is only a play because Kane says it is. If we did not know she was a playwright, we would assume it was a poem just seeing it on the page. She was a poet before she was a playwright and it shows in this work.

      If you look at it from that perspective, there are a lot of poems which could be performed dramatically. Especially poetry from the 1930s on.

  2. thanks for the response. first time i came back for the last five months. I wish I saw the VCA production also.


    (perhaps that gmail inbox has notifications on this original reply). but thanks samsara.


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