Friday 18th August 2017, 8:15pm, Old Fitz Theatre
Sarah Kane's final play 4:48 PSYCHOSIS, about the still somewhat taboo topics of clinical depression and suicide, is a perfect fit for Old Fitz Theatre's 2017 season of Unspoken subjects. Presented with care by Anthony Skuse (director), this exploration of the complex mental illness that lead to Kane's own suicide, is confronting and also enlightening.
The non-linear work, which leaves a great deal of the interpretation up to the director, consists of 24 sections through which first person expressed experiences, observations, conversations and thoughts play out through a range of linguistic styles. Whilst Kane's work doesn't specify a number of performers, Skuse has opted to stick with the original production's 3 performers, in this case Lucy Heffernan, Ella Prince and Zoe Trilsbach, to express the poetic, abstract and naturalistic text that plays out over approximately 60 minutes.
Set and Costume Designer Jeremy Allen adds to the mental complexity of the work with a bare stage backed by a corner of mirrored walls, ensuring there are no hidden corners in the intimate Old Fitz Theatre and challenging the audience to decide whether to observe the actors as they stand before you, their reflected images, presented in duplicate or the audience. Allen starts with the trio of women in more defined costuming differences, with Heffernan commencing in nothing more than underpants whilst Prince has a casualness of jeans and Trilsbach is slightly more formal in buckled heels and satin shirt, before they are all levelled to a barefoot uniformity of solid colour tops and variations on jeans.
Alexander Berlage's Lighting Design utilises Allens mirrors to hold the women in various stages of illumination. The assortment of narrow columns of light are arranged to appear as bars boarding the mirrored walls, spotlights to either shine directly on the performers or have them stand in part light, and a series that are positioned to illuminate the audience, visible in the reflections. Blinding spotlights also shine out at the audience in a repetitive theme, linked to the recurring statement "hatch opens, stark light". Benjamin Freeman's composition helps to add another layer to the work and evoke the changing moods from isolation to confusion and entrapment. Repeated themes add to the spiral of thought whilst having a degree of silence. Grinding mechanical wails like cell doors sliding allude to the trapped mind and echoing tones add to the clouded thoughts trying to be made sense of.
The trio of women deliver a well-paced performance with an honesty to the expression of the character's thoughts, particularly the somewhat matter of fact observations of feelings and physical reactions. Their ability to allow the silence to sit is bold, allowing the thoughts and questions to sit with the audience to contemplate. Whilst each is potentially part of the same character, Heffernan, Prince and Trilsbach each bring a slightly different expression to the part of the character, adding to the possibility of multiple voices playing in the subject's mind. They present the work as more a factual analysis, even if coming from Kane's personal position of more than likely experiencing the feelings and reactions she pours into the text, removing judgement from the thoughts being expressed and allowing the audience to decide how they will react to the study laid before them. 4
4:48 PSYCHOSIS is an intriguing work that challenges the audience to see mental illness from a new angle and gain a better understanding of what sufferers may being going through, understanding the complexity and the fact that it isn't always as overt as the movies would have us believe. With the mirrored staging and lights that draw the audience into the scenes this is more than just an observation, taking on an alternative style of immersive theatre that has the viewer considering not just the work playing out formally, but also their own reactions and emotions.