The dilemma of staging Sarah Kane’s final play, 4.48 Psychosis, is not in its subject matter, but in its structure and function. The text itself is a loose collection of observations and memories – pain, despair, conversation, self-examination, pharmacology, clarity, apology, and farewell – with no performance directions whatsoever.
However, despite its mix of the abstract and the real, the text is also clearly the product of a singular voice, open to pretty much any interpretation by a cast and crew. Unfortunately, only a smattering of the approach by Director, Michele McNamara, and Illumi-Nation Theatre, worked here.
The crowbarring to turn sporadic exchanges on the page between Patient and Psychiatrist into a linear storyline/almost-love story was unnecessary, pulling focus from the text and the plight of the author. The presence of luggage onstage was a clumsy metaphor (as in – it’s what one prepares when getting ready to ‘depart’), but showed good imagination.
The music by Matt Brown and mbryo was superb, particularly in the opening moments. As the cast slowly emerge from the audience, the piano barely manages to hold onto its tune, constantly threatening to tumble down into complete discord, a lovely bit of sonic foreshadowing of the fragile state of existence about to be explored.
While the main space at Gasworks afforded the production some nice lighting effects, the acoustics were too cavernous, meaning many lines were inaudible. With the floor space being so large, much of the blocking felt inorganic, being choreographed to use as much of it as possible. In other words, to fill the room and reach the audience, the cast were forced to shout and run and ultimately it made for a show that was belligerent instead of engaging.
Too many lines were delivered like slam poetry, or portrayed in such a literal way as to render them benign: When they spoke of panic, they were histrionic; when they spoke of God, they made a crucifix; when they spoke of flying, someone was lifted.
Sarah Kane, who had suffered from debilitating depression for years – near the end of her life that she would end herself – put pen to paper to attempt a kind of lyrical polaroid of what it was like in her brain. There’s an uncomfortable intimacy inherent in Kane’s text that here was either ignored or obliterated.
Where the piece worked was in those rare quiet moments (e.g. simply delivered lines by Andy Aisbett, or Stephanie Pick, stood out), when the cast were allowed to present the work with a gripping sense of honesty and vulnerability. These visceral moments, where they let Kane’s words speak for themselves, were the few compelling moments in a show that was otherwise too fragmented and declamatory.
Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham Street, Albert Park
Performance: Wednesday 13 September 2017 – 9.30pm
Season continues to 16 September 2017
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: 4.48 Psychosis – photo by Sarah Steiner (Scarr Photography)
Review: David Collins