Amy Price reviews CTC’s ambitious production of 4:48 Psychosis.
4:48 Psychosis is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging scripts a dramatist can deal with. With no explicit characters or stage directions, it is entirely down to the director’s discretion as to how they perform Sarah Kane’s contemplation of mental illness.
Hence, Castle Theatre Company’s Maria Zaikina was very brave to take this production on, along with her cast of three (Hamish Clayton, Carrie Gaunt and Shona Graham), and her creative ambition must be commended. Largely the execution was excellent, but there were moments that let the production down.
Empty Shop was a perfect space for an intimate performance, with the bare walls and informality appropriate given the subject matter. The set was well thought through, with the small audience arranged in a circle around the action in a manner that allowed the cast members to walk behind them. The stools were not particularly comfortable, but this discomfort and sense of exposure leant itself well to the themes of the play. The full-length mirrors set around the outside of the circle were also clever reminders of the underlying issues of locating identity and body dysmorphic disorder that are addressed within the text.
Indeed, one of the more affecting moments was Graham’s “I am sad” monologue, during which Gaunt wrote the spoken words aggressively on the mirror. Whilst kudos goes to all three of the cast for tackling such a complex script (which requires extensive characterisation and interpretation), it was Graham who seemed to best grasp the bitter sarcasm of the play. She was engaging in her portrayal of both grief and blank depression, and her performance was all the more impressive given that she is in her first year here at Durham.
Other moments of beautiful poignancy included the effective use of torches, and the scene whereby a sinister Clayton secured Gaunt to the central table using ties that appeared to be covered with lines from the play in black sharpie.
However, it did seem like the performance was overwhelmed with symbolic action that was often lost on the audience, and led to a slight sense of incoherency beyond the necessary fragmentation of the play. The decision to include black outs and ‘scene changes’ seemed laboured at times. Similarly, the synchronised dialogue occasionally came across as a little cliché (although it was hard not to appreciate the precision with which it was done!).
Aside from this, there were also ideas that had a lot of potential, but didn’t quite succeed in having the desired impact. The envelopes given out to the audience were a nice touch, but didn’t seem to have an apparent significance. Conversely, the clever use of the telephone to imply the character’s abortion/miscarriage was loaded with significance, but this was delayed by interpretative movements beforehand, whereby the phone was moved through the air in an apparently meaningless way. It was a shame that this alienated the audience slightly, and so the meaning was diluted.
Overall the show should be commended for its sheer ambition, as it attempted to draw out some of the deeper meanings of Kane’s impenetrable text. It was not always the most engaging, but it was nevertheless a powerful portrayal of mental illness.
Definitely worth a watch if you want to broaden your horizons with something a little different.
Image: Maria Zaikina