4:48 Psychosis

Thu 9th – Sat 11th February 2012


Michelle Newbold

at 10:20 on 10th Feb 2012



With its absence of stage directions, locations or even set characters, Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis presents a challenge to even the most experienced theatre company. For Hild Bede Theatre, however, the lack of clear instructions in the script worked as a strength, rather than as a weakness. The production was as harrowing as it was thought-provoking, and certainly fulfilled its claim to be a ‘step out of the comfort zone’.

4:48 Psychosis would be hard to understand, and impossible to fully appreciate, without some knowledge of its context. This was Kane’s final work, written in the depths of clinical depression shortly before the playwright committed suicide. The play deals comprehensively with the themes of depression and suicide, and touches on self-harm and the medication used in the treatment of mental illness. One especially disturbing scene highlights the issue of sexual assault on vulnerable patients by their doctors. Overall, Kane’s suicide casts an eerie shadow over a work which she must have known would be performed posthumously.

Hild Bede Theatre used innovative techniques in their interpretation of 4:48 Psychosis. What initially appeared to be a catastrophic overestimation of audience numbers was in fact a clever directorial decision; the excess of chairs provided ample space for cast members to mix in with the audience. Certain spectators were spoken to directly, handed tablets and pieces of paper, and sometimes even shouted at during the course of the play. The blurring of the lines between cast and audience members highlighted the fact that mental health issues can affect anyone, and this was by far the play’s greatest success.

Other directorial decisions were equally admirable. Props were kept to a minimum; a bed provided a focal point around which the audience were arranged. Simple lighting clarified the action and did not distract from it, while music and news clips were used sparingly but effectively. Perhaps the most effective audio came from the performers themselves, however, as at times the entire cast were engaged in humming, whispering or shouting to dramatize the action on the central stage.

Acting ability was also highly commendable. Although there were no named characters, and only the fragments of tangible storylines, each individual cast member conveyed the various aspects of mental illness with harrowing commitment, and the performers worked well as an ensemble.

Overall, Hild Bede Theatre’s interpretation of what must have been an extremely challenging script, concept and subject matter was remarkable in its achievements.


Jason Zhao

at 05:30 on 11th Feb 2012



4:48 Psychosis the show is as conflicted as the content itself. 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane is the portrayal of a young woman in the depths of clinical depression and the play itself lacks stage directions and characters; the allocation of lines is completely up to the discretion of the director. There isn’t much of a plot in terms of progression in 4:48 Psychosis, but then it isn’t meant to have a plot. Rather it is a portrait of madness if you will, a picture that one hopes to get richer, deeper and more penetrating by the finale. 4:48 Psychosis attempts to bring us into the very mind of a lost soul grappling with maniac-depression and this it succeeds masterfully – only for us to be pushed away.

To this point, 4:48 Psychosis far exceeds its own expectations, through the brilliant directorial decision to utilize 14 actors to play 3-5 roles, the usage of multiple voices of the ensemble to represent conflicting thoughts within one individual, the fantastic cooperation and synergy of the ensemble as a whole, and the decision to disperse such actors throughout and behind the audience. The final product is the audience is not only just transported into a maniac- depression state, but the inherent discord and conflict is imposed upon the audience. Stage and seating arrangements played a crucial role here, the seats surrounded the stage in a U –shaped manner and the positioning of the seats was extremely close to the stage.

The initial usage of the ensemble was a jolt to absolutely every member of the audience. Slowly rising voices shouting words of suicide and anger coming behind the audience, among the audience, with growing intensity and number; the entire crowd was transfigured in initial shock and fear, and the ensemble’s voices grew louder and louder until the effect was absolutely overwhelming, a discord of different voices each shouting or whispering or chanting a maniacal or suicidal thought, while the seemingly serene and silent figures of our protagonist and her lover caressing each other made a beautiful contrast to the chaotic ensemble.

Anti-depressant medicine illustrates its mind-numbing effects through the uniform humming of the ensemble punctuated by a lone voice of fragmented words. In a sense the entire technique succeeds wonderfully but the voices are so powerful it tempts the audience to withdraw and distance ourselves from the play. This makes 4:48 Psychosis not an easy play to appreciate, and there must be a conscious effort to accept the atmosphere as it is.

This also my main criticism of the show, simply put, that it is quite difficult to relate to. Chaotic scenes with poetic dialogue makes it hard to realize what precisely the characters mean, leaving theatre-goers being bewildered by the events, and this I observed was a common sentiment. The acting is also sometimes too overdone, giving a feeling of being forced and lacking authenticity. This would be the (multiple) scene of grabbing a few pills, drinking it with a bottle of Glen’s Vodka, and proclaiming “The chronic insanity of the insane!”, repeat a few times and then puking on the mattresses/stage. Besides the particular statement is as informative as saying “The blue sky is blue,” what is most glaring is the emphasis on being insane to the point of telling the audience of her insanity. The old adage, “show not tell” will be useful. This is not merely a trivial aesthetic judgment but rather it detracts from the overall effect of the play. It makes the depiction of maniac-depression into something that is more dramatic than life, constantly demanding attention for it to brand this fact into each and everyone’s mind. The result is a lack of a connection to the characters; perhaps because we require normality to relate, but regardless this will prove very damaging to the show.

4:48 Psychosis is not meant to be a play than one enjoys and delights in but it is a play meant to disturb the audience. And what disturbance is possible without a part of ourselves being reflected to us? It asks us to be afraid of the infinite depths of madness that surround our little island of rationality and contentment, but it also condemns the cold, unsympathetic and judgmental sensibility which rationality is depicted as. It asks us to venture perhaps just a little bit further out to the shore, but such an over-bearing portrayal of madness with a lack of connection is more likely to terrify the audience into clinging tighter to the cold sensibility which the very show condemns. One hopes the play disturbs us, and indeed it has disturbed us but it has disturbed us by the wrong reasons of seeing depression as utterly alien and terrible. It is unlikely such unease persists after the show has ended, and there is an unfulfilled desire for 4:48 Psychosis to at the very least, give us a few troubled nightmares. Despite the faults of 4:48 Psychosis, I would nonetheless recommend it if not for the sole sake of the brilliant usage and acting of the ensemble. Hild Bede’s Theatre pulled this off quite well, and of all the arbitrariness of star reviews, it is very “good” but is lack just a little bit to “fantastic”. As much as I wish I can more accurately rate is as 3.8, 4:48 Psychosis by Hild Bede Theatre is an upper three-star show.

On a final note; the audience’s exit was curiously ironic. 4:48 Psychosis ends with the protagonist rocking on the mattresses weeping softly amid quiet cries of help while my fellow theatre goers and I turn to leave and start chatting and laughing with each other. Perhaps it begs the question of whether we have unknowingly played the part of the disinterested passerby/stranger that grants 4:48 Psychosis its conclusion.


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