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4.48 Psychosis

Sarah Kane
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Studio

Tom Mothersdale Credit: Mark Douet
Pearl Chanda Credit: Mark Douet
Rakie Ayola Credit: Mark Douet

A stark sunken square. Two functional chairs. Three actors. A ticking clock.

Sarah Kane’s final play, written under a pseudonym to avoid the devastating effect of hostile press criticism of her earlier work, is a poetic narrative shared between three actors playing multiple roles, which presents the state of mind of an individual struggling with suicidal despair.

There is no clear delineation of roles. The protagonist, if there is only one, is sometimes represented by a man, sometimes by a woman; and doctor figures are similarly shared between different members of the cast. All three contribute passages of reflection. The effect is to suggest a generalisation of experience, or conversely, that all three actors represent one person.

The language of the play is compelling. As well as passages of intense introspection, there are occasions of dark, ironic humour.

The action is divided into segments, when the actors re-position themselves in the space, or alter the alignment of the chairs. This re-positioning is accompanied by dramatic lighting effects and occasional sound, but mainly this is a play performed against a background of silence, which intensifies the need to listen carefully to the words.

This is an impressive team achievement. Director Charlotte Gwimmer illuminates the written text with great clarity and variety in the performance is provided by contrasts in tempo, sound and silence, and emotional intensity. This complements the structures already existing in the text, which include monologue, dualogue, and multiple voice sequences.

There are outstanding performances from the three actors, Rakie Ayola, Pearl Chandra and Tom Mothersdale. In the opening sequence, Chandra and Mothersdale hold a long, eloquent silence, animated by the intensity of their body language and deep investment in their roles. It is a completely compelling moment in the theatre, when there is so much for the audience to read from a prolonged period of stillness and silence.

The text refers to roles inhabited by the central figure, as variously, ‘victim, perpetrator, bystander’. These are presented at different times by each actor, but it is left to Mothersdale to express the anger felt by a victim, not only of a traumatising medical condition, but of inadequate attempts by doctors and others to help.

In contrast, Chandra presents a rapid fire account of anti-psychotic drugs, comic in effect, which ends in self-medication.

Refused all further treatment.

100 aspirin and one bottle of Bulgarian cabernet Sauvignon, 1986. Patient woke up in a pool of vomit.. Severe stomach pain. No other reaction.

There is much more to the play than the medical sequences, though these are easier to isolate than the more complex reflections on the inability to form relationships, the need for love, the futility of religion, the brutality of war, the inability to cope and the wish to end it all. Hope lies, sadly, in the thought that there will be a time of clarity in the middle of a long, sleepless night.

At 4.48
when sanity visits
for one hour and twelve minutes I am in my right mind.
When it has passed I shall be gone again,
A fragmented puppet, a grotesque fool.

Reviewer: Velda Harris