Review: 4:48 Psychosis at The MC Showroom

Review by Stephanie Lee


Fusing contemporary dance and theatre, this short staging of Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis moves uniquely through the different states of thought with both speech and the physical body.


Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis is a fraught and challenging work in its own right, as it is effectively a suicide note formed into a theatrical masterpiece. Anyone who has come across the written script before will know that it leaves much up to the director’s discretion with no specification of staging or number of actors, and some pages consisting of unexplained scattered numbers. While the play follows a non-narrative, non-linear timeline, it clearly attempts to unpack and explore clinical depression and treatment from inside the illness.


Contemporary dance seems particularly suited to Kane’s harrowing work, as the body is able to express and expand upon so many of the underlying themes of the work. The actors’ movements often complimented each other in a way that suggested two different parts of one whole- drawing together one moment and then pushing a part the next. While the movement of the piece was often compelling, the text at times felt secondary to the body. This meant that the poignancy of the abstract descriptions of mental illness were sometimes lost a little in the text’s delivery.


Most interesting textually was the decision to make the text a dialogue between what seemed to be two different states of the same person. Thus, the play was interpreted as an inner monologue fighting itself- each actor representing a different train of thought, constantly questioning each other.


As this staging was focused on the body as a site able to make meaning, the set consisted of simply a chair and the costumes were neutral coloured, simple clothing that enabled the actors to move freely. Similarly, the sound and lighting both underscored the actors’ movements in a very simple way, helping to create a sense of constant flow in the Blackbox theatre space.


Rosemary Ochtman and Jesse Donaldson-Jarrett’s performances complemented each other well, both actors moving fluidly in a connected way through the space to explore the play’s light and darkness. Particularly effective was the moment towards the end where the actors walked towards each other mimicking the starting sequence except instead of parting ways Ochtman grabbed onto Donaldson-Jarrett’s chest from behind. The movement sequences following felt like a dance between the two states of mind in 4:48 Psychosis, with the actors pulling against each other and then supporting each other’s weight in perfect balance. The actors’ ability to physically traverse the moments of clarity in the text followed by deep wounds being ripped open the next moment was quite powerful and played out the underlying tensions of the text beautifully.


While I do think that the physicality of the performance possibly overshadowed the musicality of the text at times, overall Ochtman’s direction of the piece was visually interesting in an embodied way. The focus on the human body was actually well suited to Kane’s work and I very much enjoyed the fusion of contemporary dance and theatre in this version of 4:48 Psychosis.

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