Reading Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis is like dragging nails down a blackboard filled with the ranting of a depressive: you’re left with bits of text and the echoes of a despairing shriek. 4:48 Psychosis has no characters, no stage directions, only the voices of madness – sometimes lamenting, sometimes furious, and sometimes blackly humorous.
Monaghan’s production is similarly fragmented in its diverse presentation, but unfortunately tends towards sensationalism. The audience are treated to screaming, cackling, crying, frotteurism, actors writhing on the floor and all manner of clichés about the mentally ill.
It’s pretty ironic if you contrast it with the promo quote: ‘At 4.48, when sanity visits…I am in my right mind.’ The production is clearly non-realistic, but as an expressionistic approach it fails to capture the fact that the experience of mental illness includes the belief in one’s sanity; it portrays society’s perception of a mad individual’s mind rather than the individual’s actual experience.
See, you don’t usually get screaming and writhing at 4.48 a.m. At 4.48, the kebab vans have gone, it’s dark and you’re left alone with a broken heater, a half-done essay and the piercing apprehension of absolute futility. This sense of the dark night of the soul, and the play’s lyricism, is lost amid the sensationalism.
Of course there are arguments for a sensational approach, but then the objection becomes that Monaghan didn’t go far enough. The tropes of torment trotted out barely approached the kind of cannibalistic violence, say, of the theatre of cruelty.
Still, there were plenty of good elements, suggesting that the problem was mainly the overambitious choice of play. Although Monaghan cut out some dark humour in favour of strained Christ symbolism, what’s left is played in an interestingly offbeat way. The inclusion of accomplished musical and vocal accompaniment is genius, and should have been explored more. And beneath their histrionics, the four actors are obviously talented with good vocals and stage presence. Amelia Peterson in particular strangely emanates a sort of gaunt mystery which I felt related more to the text.
All of which makes it a shame to give three stars, because had Monaghan and his crew turned their attention to something more conventional, it would have been very, very good. As it is, it’s watchable for a few innovations and the fact that, after all, it’s still a Kane.