Intimate performance of Sarah Kane’s “4:48 Psychosis”

"4.48 Psychosis". Pic: Harriet Mallinson

“4.48 Psychosis”. Pic: Harriet Mallinson

Grace Smith’s production of Sarah Kane’s “4.48 Psychosis” at the Lewisham Fringe Festival took its audience on an emotional rollercoaster as it chronicled a woman’s depression and contemplations of suicide.

The play’s title stems from the time, 4:48am, when the depressed Kane would often wake. The subject is particularly challenging given that Kane herself committed suicide before the initial performance in February 1999.

The setting of this production was intimate – inevitably so given that The London Theatre is Britain’s smallest purpose built theatre – and simple. Furnished with just a white table and chairs, the set gave a somewhat clinical feel. It was never clear where precisely the action was taking place. The play belongs to the ‘in yer face’ literary movement and the close proximity certainly reflected this.

“4.48 Psychosis” is no easy play to direct given its utter lack of specified setting, stage directions or characters. The use of two protagonists, one male and one female, played by David Sayers and Janna Fox was highly effective and the contrast between the two was evident from the beginning.

Fox, cowering in the corner and dressed in baggy grey sweatpants and a grey hooded jumper, seemed every bit the depressed patient she was supposed to be. Sayers, with his suit and dominating stance, instantly took on the role of authority.

The Lighting was simple but used well, dimming when one of the characters was left alone and brightening when the pair was together. The climax of the lighting and sound effects, operated by Hugh Allison, occurred towards the end. A sudden and truly horrible electrical crackling filled the air and the lights flickered and flashed. The torturous effect was thrillingly disturbing and enough to send anyone mad.

Fox’s oscillations between petulance, anger, grief and pain were fascinating and the audience couldn’t help but pity her as she tried to force a smile. Most impressive was her ability to well up in her moments of anguish and even more so when a single tear slid down her face at the end. She was the true image of a broken and lost woman.

Her glistening, dark eyes would occasionally latch on to the audience’s in a most effective way, drawing them into her pain as she both yelled expletives and cried out to be loved. It was respectively terrifying and heart-breaking.

Sayer’s character slowly changed from an authoritative presence with a calm doctor’s voice, to a troubled man who hates his job and displays a shocking anger. Indeed, when the audience is left alone with him his sanity seems no better than the woman’s.

The play was both moving and hard to watch at times but was a haunting performance, undoubtedly leaving the audience with a whole new outlook on the time 4:48am.

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