It’s always difficult to watch any production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis without drawing parallels to the playwright’s own life and death, as her final stage play it is a deeply affecting commentary on mental health and suicide. Paula Garfield directs an all-male cast of four in this searing and unique production.
What became Kane’s trademark; scripts with no defined characters or stage directions, has allowed Deafinitely Theatre to breathe new life in to the production, employing their own trademark style. The 24 sections originally envisaged by Kane are performed in both British Sign Language and spoken English, a first despite the many productions of 4.48 Psychosis mounted across the globe.
Although the play was written with no specific setting, the staging is distinctly clinical or institutional, plain walls and green doors combined with the white coats of doctors immediately strikes an imposing feeling of confinement. To further intensify this feeling, the cast are closed in on all sides, with a glass partition separating them from the audience. Interestingly, the glass muffles the sound slightly, just enough for a hearing audience member to have to pay a little more attention, which conversely makes it easier to connect with the characters emotional turmoil.
The use of sign language along with projections has given Deafinitely Theatre maximum opportunity to explore the ambiguity of the language, which soars between conversational and abstract. Couple this with the softly haunting music from Chris Bartholomew and Joe Hornsby’s vivid lighting, and the audience is drawn in to an almost lucid dream like state, a powerful device given the subject matter.
At the heart of Kane’s play is clinical depression, but this production expands on the theme by highlighting the condition in both those who are deaf, and also in males. The recent awareness given to male mental health and suicide makes this piece even more poignant. Adam Bassett, Brian Duffy, Jim Fish and Matt Kyle bring raw emotion to their collective characters. Duffy and Kyle in particular have long periods alone on stage, demonstrating the inner conflict through movement and signing, their performances provoking an innate emotional response from the enthralled audience.
4.48 Psychosis and it’s non-linear structure means it can be a difficult piece to get to grips with, but Paula Garfield has used a variety of techniques to draw the audience, both hearing and deaf, in to the fold. There’s no pretending it’s an easy watch, and for anyone affected by mental health or suicide there are bound to be triggers, but the defining feature of this production is its ability to utterly captivate and move its audience, making it essential viewing.