Reviewed: 4:48 Psychosis
By Niall Oddy
What compels us to watch a play that deals with mental illness? Are we seeking entertainment, or something deeper? Hild Bede Theatre’s adaptation of 4.48 Psychosis offered the latter in a well-acted and extremely creative production.
From the beginning the audience is plunged into the action as it becomes apparent that fellow members of the audience, sitting behind and next to us, are in fact characters in the play. Throughout, the fourteen actors in the cast oscillate between the stage in front of us, the space behind us and the seats next to us, pushing past without an ‘excuse me’, completely, unceasingly and impressively in character. They touch us, talk to us and hand us pages ripped from a book.
We thus become more than spectators. We are objects, springboards for the characters to act against. And we do not know what to do. Should we look at the stage? Or at the character sitting at our feet and untying our shoe laces? Or at one of the others amongst the audience? Or away from all? We feel on edge, uncomfortable. Which is precisely the point. We are forced to question ourselves, to wonder how to react and how to feel about the raw, chaotic emotion on display.
This then is the creative ingenuity of director Hannah Brennan. She has taken Sarah Kane’s script with its lack of plot and its absence of stage directions and characters, and put the dialogue into the mouths of fourteen different characters. Lines repeated, lines chanted in unison by all, lines whispered, lines screamed; we see the suffering of many, a collective pain that drags us into the nightmarish reality. Crucially, the excellent cast are up to the challenge of portraying this.
The performance is at its best when the cast interact with one another. There is violence, and there are brief moments of tenderness and glimpses of love – hope amongst the despair. When the doctor, who spends much of the play circling menacingly around the audience, comes forward to say to his patients the lines that do not help them, we are forced to consider how society regards mental illness.
The weakest element is the script itself. Powerfully affecting when simple (‘I don’t want to die’ shouted over and over in unison), the more elaborate formulations, such as ‘the chronic insanity of the sane’, leave us cold.
All in all, this production of 4.48 Psychosis – commendable for its vision and its execution – was perhaps not enjoyable but thought-provoking and powerful.