4.48 Psychosis (4 stars)

4.48 Psychosis

Seen at Cumbernauld Theatre. At Tramway, Glasgow, until Sat 15 Nov


It doesn’t seem right to say you have enjoyed Sarah Kane’s final play. Written not long before her suicide in 1999 and staged posthumously, it is a poetic evocation of the mind of someone in the depths of clinical depression. There are flashes of dark humour if you care to look – and this production by Adrian Osmond’s SweetScar defiantly doesn’t – but the overriding mood is one of helpless despair. A first-date show it is not.

For these reasons, audiences struggle to find an appropriate response. Even after a performance with the startling intensity of Magdalena Cielecka in the TR Warszawa production at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, the idea of applauding seemed in bad taste. When I saw that show in Poland, some people had started leaving before the rest of us summoned up the strength to clap.

And on the night I saw Osmond’s production there was no applause at all, not only because actor Keith Macpherson had reached a sorry end in a watery grave and wasn’t going to come back (I’m not giving anything away to say 4.48 Psychosis ends badly). It was also because of the show’s novel presentation.

It begins in absolute darkness – not even an exit sign to help you orientate – and getting to your seat requires the guidance of an usher wearing night-vision goggles. You’re well into the performance before you figure out where everyone else is sitting and for a while you’re not even sure if there’s a stage.

As a consequence, you experience this 4.48 Psychosis not as a collective, but as an individual unsettled by sensory depravation. In one way that encourages you to identify with Macpherson’s mental disorientation, to empathise with this tormented figure in the gloomiest of rooms. But in another way, Osmond distances you from the actor by playing the script as a pre-recorded collage of voices, like an interior conversation rattling away in the man’s head.

The lack of applause is due to a sense of social alienation that matches the psychiatric dissociation taking place on stage. It is a very lonely experience. You won’t enjoy it, but you should see it.

4.48 Psychosis

  • 4 stars

Sarah Kane's last play, a poetic tale of desperation written just before she killed herself aged 27.

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