4:48 Psychosis

Sarah Kane
Young Vic Maria Studio
(2009)

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While the late Sarah Kane is the darling of Europe, British producers still view her work with a mixture of suspicion and fear. Even this production of her last play is a collaboration between an actor and director with European roots.

4:48 in the morning is apparently a low point of the day, at least to those who do not sleep through it blissfully unaware.

In the case of Sarah Kane, this takes on increasing significance, since by this stage of her short but explosive career, the controversial playwright's mindset was turning towards oblivion. Sadly this was brought to fruition by her suicide before the play made it to performance, premiering at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs in 2000.

To date, this reviewer has seen that original sparse production for three actors under an invasive mirror and a spectacular but equally challenging Polish version on a much larger scale by TR Warsawa in Edinburgh last year.

It therefore came as something of a surprise to learn that award-winning Romanian film actress Anamaria Marinca and her French director Christian Benedetti believed that she could carry it off alone.

In some ways, the play is so personal, possibly Miss Kane's open suicide note, that a solo performance makes perfect sense. In others, it could have come over like one of those novel readings on Radio 4 in which an actor has to use many tones and accents to convey far too many characters.

One measure of the greatness of this play is the fact that every one of the productions has been illuminating in a different way and each has deeply affected the viewer.

Miss Marinca, looking exhausted and out of it from the start, gives a courageous, subtly nuanced performance that will live in the memory for years. Mixing terror with remarkable bursts of hostility, she inhabits a wounded soul on the brink of extinction with complete conviction, to the extent that after the brittle cathartic release of the denouement, it is a great relief to see her come out of character and return to smiling "sanity".

For 75 minutes, the unnamed protagonist fights with doctors and lovers but, more than anything, with herself, as she endures despair and keeps returning to the only solution - pills, a blade and a noose. Throughout, despite the terrifying intensity, the work is tinged with humour, although usually only of the blackest variety.

Where other productions used different voices or settings, the actress stands alone and lonely in a bare cell, changing character by tempo rather than vocal intonation. Miss Marinca barely moves for long periods, commencing with an unnerving two minute silence to create a mood that remains relentless from the moment that she utters her first words.

There is no plot as such, just a sustained meditation of the pointlessness of living and the ways of escaping. Even so, the tone poem is gripping, which owes much to the text and on this occasion even more to an actor/director partnership, who must have worked together for ages to achieve such a complete and detailed interpretation of Sarah Kane's text.

Watching 4:48 Psychosis is never going to be easy but it does seem that any company willing to commit to it has the chance of presenting an evening of fascinating drama.

For everyone else, Anamaria Marinca's acting tour de force will prove one of the theatrical highlights of the summer and should be on everybody's must-see list, although anyone suffering from depression may find the experience too difficult even to contemplate.

Playing until 8th August

Reviewer: Philip Fisher