Wednesday 13 September 2017

4.48 Psychosis - Theatre Review

What: 4.48 Psychosis
When: 12-16 September 2017
Where: Gasworks Arts Park
Written by: Sarah Kane
Directed by: Michelle McNamara
Composed by: MBRYO
Performed by: Andy Aisbett, Matt Brown, Pearce Hessling, Catherine Holder, Stephanie Pick and Laila Thaker.
Lighting by: Jason Bovaird
Stage Manaaged by: Lauren Thuys

Laila Thaker, Stephanie Pick, Catherine Holder, Andy Aisbett and Pearce Hessling
Melbourne has totally fallen in love with Sarah Kane. This Melbourne Fringe Festival we see another production of 4.48 Psychosis (my third over the last 5 years) and next year Blasted is being stage at the Malthouse. If you are new to the powerful writing by this English post-dramatic playwright you need to hurry on down to Gasworks this week because Illumi-Nation brings us a production worthy of Kane's writing this Fringe.

I have often complained about directors not paying attention to the style and intention of playwrights' work but McNamara and her team have committed themselves to the Expressionist power of true post-dramatics in this production and it pays off. Visually confronting, dynamically performed, and with a sound track from MBRYO (Brown) which sends chills up the spine, this is an evening of theatre which really allows us to feel as though we have experienced something important.

Sarah Kane originally considered herself an Expressionist poet but came to feel the form was too restrictive. She totally astounded the theatre world with her debut play Blasted (1997) and went on to confound them with four more plays before this one, her final play before suicide, which debuted in 2000. 4.48 Psychosis eschews most theatrical conventions and takes us back to her poetic roots. There are no specified characters or location. Instead the play is written in 24 segments. The language careens from naturalistic to highly abstracted to poetic and every variation in between and outside those boxes. What Kane achieves is a psychological portrait of an experience of depression - in particular a journey of medical intervention.

McNamara began this project at the start of 2017 as part of her Masters degree. 4.48 Psychosis was a vehicle for her to explore directing using post-dramatic techniques. Whilst we might consider post-dramatics a bit old hat now, in this production we get a theatrical experience of true impact as form follows form and thus allows function to be achieved. It was so refreshing (and, of course, disturbing) to be able to truly delve into the world Kane had created with authenticity and power. If you read my reviews regularly you may remember by last experience of this play was not a happy one so I thank you Illumi-Nation for restoring my faith and trust.

The stage is stripped back with small pockets of potential in the great chasm of the Gasworks main stage. Bovaird's architectural lighting and games of perspective and geometry emphasis the abyss at times, and at other times irises the space down to claustrophobic yet isolated moments of potential connection. This undulation of space and relationship reinforces the struggles of the actors to conform and 'normalise'.

McNamara chose to use 5 actors on the face of it, but in reality there are six as - in a Brechtian nod - Brown operates his magnificent sound composition and design. His quiet presence, never fully lit, evokes so many extra layers which only enhance the questions and impact of the play. Is he Kane writing the play as it is occurring? Is he a doctor going over the files of the patient? Is he a puppet master performing experiments on disempowered subjects? Perhaps he is all of this and more. Perhaps he is less?

The actors portray only 2 characters. There is the doctor (Hessling) and the patient who is played by all the others. You might think this technique might lead us to the wrong diagnosis. It doesn't. There is never any real hint of multiple personality disorder. This production is clearly about experiences of depression. What McNamara has done by fragmenting the character is to mirror the fragmentation of the play and prevent us from totally identify with the character whilst still being able to empathise with his/her experiences. When they break apart and work alone they become a world of people in pain. When then work together in various combinations they become the confusion of trying to understand why they don't fit the world and the world doesn't fit them.

The real strength of this production of 4.48 Psychosis is by honouring Kane they avoid the trap of saying this is what depression is always and for everybody. They remove the myth of 'truth'. It is an experience, it is many experiences, but it is not every experience.

I feel so lucky to have been able to kick off my 2017 Melbourne Fringe with a show this good. It is only on this week so snap up your tickets and don't miss it.

4.5 Stars

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