Preview: 4:48 Psychosis

By Maria Zaikina interviews the director of 4.48 Psychosis, Maria Zaikina.


Could you summarise the play for those who aren’t familiar with it?

It is a tragedy set in the ‘theatre of the mind’; a mind, which is conscious of its tragic destiny and is driven towards self-destruction in order to convey this tragic sensibility through to the end.


Why have you chosen to use three actors for the original production – as the original performance did?

I believe that Sarah Kane herself recommended using three actors for the production, and I wanted to value her authorial opinion. There is also a specific line in the play, which influenced my decision: ‘Victim. Perpetrator. Bystander.’ This line is a summary of three different sides of the fragmented persona of the play: the dominant, manic Perpetrator, the passive, depressive Victim, and the Bystander, who oversees their simultaneous collaboration and confrontation from above.


The play has no explicit characters or stage directions; so this is the director’s play nearly as much as the author’s. Does this affect how it is put together?

It is impossible not to stage this play without having a strong vision as a director. This play is directed in a unique style, uncommon on the Durham theatre scene, with a innovative take on the set design.


Have you drawn inspiration from a particular production?

I haven’t actually seen any productions of it. My inspiration was the script, working from the raw material to extract as much as possible from the text itself. For example, the line, ‘A table two chairs and no windows’, was one of the inspirations behind the setting.


The Empty Shop is a really different space in terms of performance. What do you think this will bring to the play?

It is perfect for our version of the play because the Empty Shop space allows us to completely eradicate the boundary between the actors and the audience. One of the major themes in 4.48 Psychosis is the bystanders’ role and responsibility in the fate of people suffering from mental illnesses. With such a setting, the audience members cease to be mere spectators and become characters within the play, complicit to the tragedy unfolding in front of them.


Obviously the play features the very sensitive issue of clinical depression, and it’s important that this is handled carefully. How will you handle this in order to avoid causing offence?

For me, one of the reasons for staging 4.48 Psychosis was to raise awareness about mental health in a way that wasn’t clichéd or condescending. What allows us to avoid this mistake is that we understand that the speaker’s identity isn’t limited just to their mental illness. The experience of pain is universal: suffering hurts, and whether you’re mentally ill or not, it doesn’t make your suffering any less valid.

In addition, my other concern was to make sure this production wasn’t unnecessarily triggering; though I must warn everyone: there will be a few highly emotionally charged and outright shocking moments.


What would you say to those who might argue that Kane’s illness shouldn’t be dramatised?

When reading a poem, one should never assume that the speaker of the poem is synonymous with the author. Likewise with 4.48 Psychosis: if anything, it’s an offence to Sarah Kane not to regard the play independently from her personal background. However, I can understand where the concern could be coming from, given the harrowing fact that Sarah Kane took her own life only after a week after the completion of the play.


What is your favourite scene or line in the play?

This is a difficult question to answer as Kane is very good at penning individual lines that cut straight in. The final line is probably my favourite: ‘please open the curtains’. It is impossibly metatheatrical. It suggests a hospital room and curtains opened to the operation, but also theatre curtains. With this final line, the play goes beyond itself into the real world, as if Sarah Kane herself is present, speaking. It brings back someone who can’t be there.

The final scene is also my favourite scene; a perfect ending. ‘I’ve never understood / what it is I’m not supposed to feel’, says the speaker. The scene harks back to the Classical idea of the tragic flaw – although the character is constantly told they are ill and that they will get better, they cannot recover because they can’t and will never be able to understand what is wrong. I can’t think of any other tragedy in which the ending is more affective or emotionally devastating.


Why should people come to see this production?

If they want to experience a postmodern, innovative theatre unlike anything else happening in Durham, then this is the play to see.


All the tickets have to be booked in advance because of the Empty Shop’s limited audience capacity. For tickets email

£5 DST, £5.50 Students, £6 Full Price. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday 23-25 November, 8pm. Also they are cooperating with the ‘Mind’ charity, and so will be collecting donations on the door.)


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