Most theatregoers will be familiar with Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis, often referred to as her suicide note since Kane killed herself after writing it, suffering from depression herself. I have a problem with Sarah Kane, in that she manages to reach out and find all the right words to hit an audience where it hurts, but she doesn’t just do that: her plays always manage to drain me of all hope. I’ll admit I wasn’t that familiar with 4.48 Psychosis myself, because after seeing Blasted a few years ago I’ve been recovering steadily by means of Kane withdrawal. But it finally felt like the time to see this play. I went along mentally prepared to endure an hour of tears, yet had an altogether different reaction. The script of 4.48 Psychosis is understandably haphazard – what one would imagine as an accurate staging of clinical depression – and it’s so on point that it left me feeling cold. Chilled.
Director Steven Green picks up on this. With no real storyline, characters or setting, Green utilises an all-female cast of 20 to illustrate different facets of the ‘protagonist’ (represented as a fixed character by Charlie Bate) at the centre of the play and characters in her life. Everyone in the ensemble is a caricature, everyone is constantly moving, thereby creating the perfect picture of a frantic state of mind. The ensemble invest a tonne of energy and imagination into their individual roles but Bate is an absolute powerhouse as she flings herself up and down the emotional scale. In this challenging play, the verisimilitude of her acting is harrowing to watch. It’s like watching someone be destroyed on stage. I’m all for original forms of theatre, yet even with Bate becoming a fixed point in the play, there still isn’t enough of a personal journey for me to form an emotive attachment. It is all extremely clinical.
Indeed, Green has chosen to set it in a hospital. Every member of the cast wears a blue/green hospital gown, with some distinction between patient and doctors. The doctors play a prominent role, whether they be understanding or evil, and are made up and physicalised to appear terrifying. In contrast, there is something childlike about the rest of the ensemble. 4.48 Psychosis uses the same platform (a set of square lights set in the surface designed by Eleanor Field) as another of their shows, Minotaur. The symmetry of this staging compliments the repetitions in the script and physical motifs to create an extremely neat picture of disorder. This clinical tone and swarming cast of 20 in soldier-like formations appear to consume Bate so she’s frequently swallowed up by every one around her, including her own alter-egos.
Fourth Monkey have done it again with this extremely tight and yet appropriately busy production; Green’s vision is obviously immaculately well thought out, and the delivery is expert in this notoriously difficult play to stage.
**** – 4/5 stars
4.48 Psychosis plays at theSpace on Niddry Street until 25 August as a part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.