4.48 Psychosis

Sun 23rd – Tue 25th November 2014

reviews

Joseph McWilliam

at 23:47 on 23rd Nov 2014

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4.48 Psychosis characterises the internal monologue of playwright Sarah Kane in her last moments. I cannot talk too much about the plot as 4.48 literally does not have one, but Castle Theatre Company did not fail to bring out the emotion and potential hidden in Kane's writing. An incredibly challenging and controversial piece to interpret, direct and perform, 4.48 is an intense and erratic play that will undoubtedly leave audiences uncomfortable in the best of ways.

4.48 is a play where the biggest room to shine is in the direction and design; Maria Zaikina, in charge of both, executed this flawlessly. The decision to set the performance in the claustrophobic and intimate environment of The Empty Shop was a game-winner, allowing the actors to completely connect with and captivate the audience, while reflecting on the closed and fragile habitat of Kane's mind. The only downside to the entire performance was the sheer aching caused by sitting on a very uncomfortable chair for the full 90 minutes- but even then, this only added to the intentional discomfort of the play. The direction was, in a word, turbulent; this is not at all a bad thing, fitting neatly with the play and offering an insight into the degrading consciousness of the playwright, such as with the subtle upturning of the set as Kane's world itself is turned upside down. Zaikina has well and truly outdone herself for her first theatre production in Durham.

The technical direction of Alex Turner also worked fantastically. The lighting flickered between intense bursts of white and dim blue as the writing flickered between emotions, masterfully adding impact to the scenes where it mattered most. The use of music and sound was also nicely interwoven into the play; unusual ambient music added an air of intrigue, while the sound effects complimented the scenes without being invasive or jarring.

The acting, as displayed by Hamish Clayton, Carrie Gaunt and Shona Graham, was incredible. All three actors showed an intense dedication to their roles, delivering flawless performances that never once faltered and completely held my attention throughout the play. Clayton effortlessly switched between the calm and cool persona of the doctor, to deliver the irrational and crazed monologue of the playwright. The image of Gaunt being strapped down to a table and staring me in the eyes as she desperately cried for help was truly haunting, and her shivering and wailing meltdown near the end of the play still gives me goosebumps. In particular, I must single out Shona Graham for the extraordinary strength in her acting ability and raw emotion.

In full, 4.48 Psychosis was a stunning spectacle that played on all of the audience's senses and emotions. If you like the kind of theatre that makes you squirm, as I do, Castle Theatre Company's take on Sarah Kane's dying speech will thrill and disturb like nothing else can.

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Catherine Ellis

at 03:52 on 24th Nov 2014

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4.48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane’s brutal exploration of clinical depression and suicide, is certainly no stranger to the world of Durham theatre. CTC’s latest interpretation of this challenging play, directed by Maria Zaikina, is the third to appear on the Durham stage within five years. Yet while the experimental form of 4.48 Psychosis offers room for a potentially infinite number of compelling interpretations, CTC’s patchy offering is one that Durham could have managed without.

Staged at Empty Shop, 4.48 Psychosis promises ‘a unique and innovative stage design which blurs the boundary between the actors and the audience’ – a promise on which the show does not deliver. The performance space, a stark back room filled with nothing more than a table, a somewhat awkward oval of hard plastic stools (a seating arrangement seemingly dictated by the relative length and breadth of the room rather than a conscious artistic decision), and several mirrors lining the walls, proved to be a cramped and uncomfortable venue that enhanced rather than obscured the performer/spectator divide. While the motivation behind Zaikina’s chosen setup is clear, making it impossible for the audience to avoid the gaze of the performers or of each other, its practical application proved underwhelming.

So restricted was the space available to the cast that they were denied the opportunity to move freely among the spectators, being limited instead either to the centre of the room or (repeatedly) circling behind the audience’s backs, hiding them from view. Unfortunately, performers tended to focus their attention on the spectators nearest to them, often leading them to deliver their lines to the backs of oblivious audience members’ heads. Similarly, whether as a result of Zaikina’s decision to have the cast speak while facing the walls, or the simple practicalities of the oval seating, much of the play was performed with the actors’ backs to a substantial proportion of the audience, robbing the dialogue of the emotional intensity that more traditional staging might have offered. The audience’s role within the performance was also unclear, with the spectators neither fully immersed in the action (despite several long, hard stares from the cast and a peculiar moment involving envelopes) nor safely hidden beyond the fourth wall. As such, the proximity of the audience to the action felt increasingly artificial, preventing the meaningful emotional and intellectual engagement that Kane’s work so desperately needs.

While at times the use of tech greatly enhanced the performance, with eerie, discordant tunes and sickly greenish lighting proving particularly effective, the visible proximity of the director and tech director, illuminated by a lamp and the glow of the computer screen, added to this sense of artificiality.

Despite these issues, the performers made clear efforts to sustain the play’s energy and intensity. Carrie Gaunt was captivating in her depiction of a scared and desperate psyche, embodying a wildness and tension that was exhausting to watch. Shona Graham also gave a performance of remarkable maturity, matching Gaunt’s complex and wide-eyed vulnerability with a visceral (and, at times, disturbingly sensual) aggression. Gaunt and Graham complemented one another beautifully in their portrayal of the conflicting sides of a mind and body in turmoil. Hamish Clayton also committed fully to his role, yet seemed somewhat ill-at-ease throughout much of the play, and delivered many of his lines with a ponderous solemnity. Clayton is clearly an actor with potential, but failed on this occasion to maintain the stark honesty required of such a demanding script.

Watching CTC’s 4.48 Psychosis is a draining experience, though not necessarily for the reasons one might hope. Nevertheless, no matter how frequently it happens, it is admirable that a student theatre company should take on the challenge of staging such a complex play. While 4.48 Psychosis fell short of its ambitious aims, I expect a great deal more to come from everyone involved in this production in the future.

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