Shortly after the performance of 4:48 Psychosis, I commented “That was good to see”. My guest sighed, “Ok, but it would also have been good to hear.” A sporadic lack of vocal projection over the air-conditioning noise – making dialogue difficult to hear even for us seated close to the stage – took some of the gloss off of an otherwise worthwhile production.
4:48 Psychosis by British playwright Sarah Kane gives a view into one woman’s mind, one that has periods of operating so abnormally that it even rejects the fundamental imperative of self-preservation. Kane’s final play, it was written whilst she struggled with mental health problems. The title refers to her recollection of often waking at 4:48 am. Finished only shortly before her suicide at age 28 in 1999, it was first produced posthumously in 2000.
In 4:48 Psychosis, Kane’s language taps into our primal programming. We share discomfort at symbols of the unclean, like cockroaches. It also reflects biases that come with a Christian upbringing, as the patient distorts these to think of herself as demonic and one of her doctors as “The Antichrist”. Kane also achieves a dark beauty in poetic passages; in this production they became moments as cool, matter-of-fact and unarguable as an iceberg viewed in the long nights of Nordic winter.
This production comes to us through new company Bare Naked Theatre. In print, the play has little in the way of stage directions and no characters, giving a director much choice in how to present the 24 scenes.
Sometimes plays with serious themes can devolve into actors yelling at each other for an hour. 4:48 Psychosis takes a more subtle and shaded approach under the direction of Kendall-Jane Rundall. The scenes present various facets of the experience of a patient (Rundall) enduring treatment. We explored her side-effects, and saw her erratic bunji-cording from morose to playful, from rational to paranoid. We get to feel her longing for the love of a person never met, and despairing for an end to her mental suffering.
In supporting roles we have a recognisable physician figure (Jeff Wortman), and two somewhat harder to pin down parts from Alisha Eddy and Jessica Stevens that varied between scenes. The pair sometimes talked over each other, having different opinions on the action. This was effective at communicating a disruptive element, perhaps voices in Rundall’s head during an episode of hallucination. However, this interpretation was undermined by scenes in which Eddy and Stevens deliver the same lines, or when both were on stage but only one delivered lines.
Allowing for times of inaudible dialogue, the scenes were effective at giving us a sense of the disquiet that lurked in Rundall’s mind. Wortman maintained an appropriate professional coolness that squirmed unkindly, if understandably, at the thought of possible changes to the doctor-patient relationship. Eddy and Stevens contributed to the sense of exertion and discord in some of the more physical scenes.
The volatility of the patient’s mental state was suitably assisted by Shane Grant’s lighting design. Based around suspended light globes, the flickering and illumination of different parts of the stage served to give us a sense of disorientation and unpredictability of events.
Costumes by Jessica Allie placed Rundall as the most visible in a white shirt, whilst everyone else had drab colours. This made sense to clearly distinguish lived experience of mental illness from merely knowledge of its symptoms. However, the meaning of a uniform for Eddy and Stevens was less obvious. A striking touch was to have all players shoeless. This seemed to hint at a situation in which – despite loudness of volume or medical qualifications – when viewed from the outside, all parties lacked even basic equipment for addressing a complex problem.
At its best, Bare Naked Theatre’s 4:48 Psychosis was a stimulating performance aiming to give us insight into a marginalised section of society. It’s risk-taking that suitably complements some of the less-familiar works in Metanoia Theatre’s programme. For the curious or adventurous, there are only a few more chances to sift through Kane’s varied ideas in this short season.
Metanoia Theatre – Brunswick Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Performance: Wednesday 29 June 2016 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 2 July 2016
For more information, visit: www.barenakedtheatre.com for details.
Image: Alisha Eddy – courtesy of Bare Naked Theatre
Review: Jason Whyte