By Sarah Kane. Famous Last Words. Goodwood Theatre & Studios. 1 Nov 2023
Content Warning: The following article contains references to suicide that readers may find confronting.
If you require any help the following services offer 24-hour crisis support.
Lifeline: Call 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: Call 1300 22 4636
4.48 Psychosis is a love letter to British playwright Sarah Kane’s own psychotic mind. Scottish playwright and director - and Kane’s friend - David Greig, considered the play to be "perhaps uniquely painful in that it appears to have been written in the almost certain knowledge that it would be performed posthumously." Indeed, 4.48 Psychosis was first presented a year-and-a-half after Kane died by suicide. In her short 28-year life, Kane managed to write five plays, all rather dark. Harold Pinter knew Kane personally and remarked how he was not surprised to hear the news of her suicide: "She talked about it a great deal. …”
Kane didn’t encumber this work with a plot or even a specific number of actors. Director James Watson, who earlier this year wrote and directed his own highly praised adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, would have loved the ambiguity and the opportunity to pour out his creative juices. In amongst the psychobabble, poetic monologues, and dissociative fades, Kane (I’ll call the mentally ill character Kane just for the hell of it) was clearly fascinated with her condition and especially her relationship to psychiatrists and treatments (despised them), and from this, Watson devises a terrifically tragic and compelling narrative. Bravo!
Watson also employs a tremendous array of theatrical effects. The seating and stage set-up was like a Victorian-age university surgical theatre from a horror movie, or a Francis Bacon painting (Ruby Jenkins – production design). Handheld lighting and stark white brights from all directions created a chiaroscuro bleakness. Pills and other props set an abstract yet familiar scene. A voice microphone was used to no effect except to worry about tripping on the long cable. Reggie Parker’s soundtrack was menacing and tense. Watson used all this to build tension to a fabulous suicide scene of genuine surprise and deftness. I hope that wasn’t a spoiler.
The greatest challenge of minimalist theatre is the emotional quotients of the characters and there was room to improve here. Initially stilted and wooden, things heated up as the relationship between patient and psychiatrist intensified but longing and frustration remained surficial for most of the play. The audience should ache. Rhys Stewart’s matinee idol looks suited the tragic Kane, and with Watson they wonderfully utilised the gender ambiguity left to them by the playwright. Eventually, Stewart’s performance was compelling as his Kane played, consciously or unconsciously, with the psychiatrist’s conflicts. Arran Beattie chose to be a very uptight sort of psychiatrist, but his turmoil looked ingenuine. I’m glad he’s not my doctor because he had no idea what to do with a seizure. Unfortunately, for this soufflé to rise, we needed more ecstasy and less Temazepam.
When: 1 to 10 Nov
Where: Goodwood Theatre & Studios
*This review was edited after posting at the request of the creatives to remove references that were deemed offensive. A content warning was added along with contact details for 24/7 support services.