Sunday, November 23, 2008

"4.48 Psychosis" - October 2008 (revisited)

We originally posted very brief thoughts about SweetScar, Tramway and "Cumbernauld Theatre's production of "4.48 Psychosis" back when we saw it at Cumbernauld Theatre at the end of October. As part of the impact of the production was the journey into the unknown we didn't want to lessen that by being too detailed in our comments. Hence we've delayed publishing this until its run finished, and as a result we're also going into a bit more detail than usual.

The first surprise of the evening was that instead of entering through the usual main doors of the theatre we were taken into its bowels in small groups, past the costumes for their upcoming panto and backstage. Where we were led into a pitch dark theatre by ushers wearing night vision goggles. We were then seated individually, and in splendid isolation with at least two seats between you and any other audience member. All the while the sounds of a streetscape assault your senses. Traffic passing, children laughing and playing, birds chirping. You struggled to get your eyes to adjust to the darkness but it was largely impenetrable, and your imagination started to play tricks as you tried and failed to rationalise the very indistinct shapes you (think) you could make out. Even when the performance started the lights came up only for brief periods and it took you time to completely piece together what you're seeing.

Sarah Kane's last work wasn't produced until after her death, and the script gives directors complete carte blanche as there are no character names just lines of dialogue that can be allocated completely freely to the undetermined number of cast members. Director Adrian Osmond cut through this potential tangle by having only one cast member visible on stage - Keith Macpherson. And even then the dialogue actually spoken by him is limited to a few lines near the very end. Instead a host of disembodied voices represent the hundreds of individuals who are affected by mental health issues or are involved in their treatment. The speakers were positioned so close to you that you were enveloped by the sound. I even had to double check that it was actually a recording and not someone standing over your shoulder.

Staged in the round you felt like a voyeur as the set is the studwork of a room which goes from completely minimalist to semi-furnished is some hugely impressive transitions performed again in complete blackness in which furniture and other items appear and disappear in very short periods of time. The technical team of Kirsty Mackay (Designer), Kenny MacLeod (Sound Designer) and Kai Fischer (Lighting Designer) have shown here how simple and well thought out design elements can elevate a production.

Although technically polished your full focus was on Macpherson's performance as he conveys a variety of emotions and frustrations in an incredibly vulnerable, physical and exposed performance. He becomes the physical representation of every one of the disparate voices you hear, whilst remaining an individual whose journey you follow to its end. It's a journey both in time, and through the progression of his mental illness. In an hour of theatre I don't think I've ever felt so exhausted simply watching. Osmond has produced an intense, and emotionally draining experience.

Sarah Kane's own personal experiences with the mental health system obviously influenced her writing, and her negative experiences of it as a patient are evident. However one of the most powerful parts for me was the disembodied voice of a young psychiatrist simply reading out the case notes of a patient she knew the system was failing.

A beautifully constructed production.