George Washbourn takes a stroll through the neuron forest that is 4.48 Psychosis
There’s very little you can truly convey of a play as unique as 4.48 Psychosis in a written review. You could try and describe the almost claustrophobic tension of the piece, the chalkboard scratching discomfort you experience when watching it, and the visceral stream of dialogue that comprises its script, but these attempts would buckle to the impact of seeing the play for yourself.
Written by Sarah Kane shortly before her suicide at the age of 29, 4.48 Psychosis plunges its audience into the psychotic mind of a clinical depressive. Directed by Emily Louizou, now surely one of UCL’s most accomplished student directors, and staged by theatrical group Collide Theatre, it is a gruelling and brilliant piece of immersive theatre. The production team have chosen the labyrinthine Crypt Gallery as their stage, a setting so perfect it is as if it was presciently built with this play in mind. Leading its audience as a promenade production through the various twists and turns of the human psyche, the play lays bare the mind of one in abject anguish.
The play itself is almost as labyrinthine as its setting, its dialogue winding and twisting in a seemingly aimless fashion. At times, the script reaches points of almost unbearably pompous poeticism, but avoids this with prosaic chants of ‘FUCK YOU’ or raw and suicidal ramblings. ‘This is not a world in which I wish to live’, we are told repeatedly by the play’s various performers – a declaration you can’t help but relate back to Kane directly. The play seems very much like a 50 minute long suicide note in which Kane attempts to exorcise her own demons. It is a truly harrowing watch, compounded by Kane’s ultimate fate.
Though the play is effectively a monologue, its script is spread across four performers, all of whom gave thoroughly stirring performances. The oddly surrealistic feel of the play is accentuated as the four, clad in what can only be described as brain-pink bobble tops, deliver lines in a sort of choral unison.
Performer and audience are thrown together into stiflingly tight quarters which, if handled badly, could prove incredibly awkward, but the performers never waver in their commitment to convey the unadulterated grief and psychosis of the mind they are inhabiting. Each of them is not so much a character as a mouthpiece for a tortured voice, shouting unapologetically at their audience, revealing ‘the worst’ of their narrator.
The play is also a technical triumph, making great use of lighting and sound to accompany its dark and lurid tone. The attention to detail is staggering, testament to Louizou’s magisterial direction; the staging appeals to almost every sense. Smoke is wafted around the crypt, lasers bounce off the walls, reverberant music punctuates the dialogue, there is even a medicinal smell that permeates the air at points. All of this contributes to the fully immersive quality of the play, totally absorbing its bewildered audience.
I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed the play; at times I found it almost unbearable to watch, its script unpalatably perverse and affecting. However, I cannot deny that it has stayed with me since, various sound bites of its fragmented dialogue playing over and over in my mind. It is nothing if not a powerful piece of theatre, and one, whilst a challenge to stomach, that is entirely deserving of the utmost praise and reverence.
Featured image credit: Collide Theatre