4:48 Psychosis – Sarah Kane and the inclusion of everything. (Theatre Review)

4:48 Psychosis

Workhorse Theatre Company with Red Line Productions

Tyhe Old Fitz Theatre 16 August – 9 September

You can grab your tickets here

Images: Andre Vasquez


It is already too late to think in terms of separate genres or subgenres of critical discourse necessarily explained and expanded in some clear-cut cultural division of labour when examining 4:48 Psychosis. Sarah Kane has performed the necessary task of interrogating these invariably off-the-rack categories which for her are as much of an institution, coupling it to religion, law and the Foucaultian clinic as a creative or aesthetic venue. The links created between the agonies of influence, genre and splices of The Text leave a profoundly disturbing picture of genre (structure, trope) as the very principle of categorical thinking and occlusion in Western theology of being. It is within these reflective walls Anthony Skuse dramatizes the extreme exception Kane takes to The Law of Genre (as Derrida might suggest) by upending the erratic conventions to which he equally would be assumed to adhere. The idealized partnership ensues between writer and director as his philosophical argumentation is veered off course by her associative prose poetry. Sentence by sentence Kane, supported by Skuse, draws our attention to a demonstration of a detailed attentiveness to the phenomenal features of language (grammar, syntax, diction and semantics) that here take centre stage in the poetry of the intended motley performance. Kane here places herself in a line of writers including Buchner, Barker, Plath, Kafka, Foucault and Marlowe. It is inside 4:48 Psychosis the true payoff of synthesizing discourse is the buds of poetic liquification that emerge along its humdrum trajectory. Is it us or language that leaves us strapped and sobbing at 4:48 AM?

From its very outset then, Kane demands 4:48 Psychosis is beset with a structural double bind: In the name of culture’s dogged march of making explicit exists a value in the task of surveying the shock, assemblage and echo between different strands of discourse whose additory matting or text ventures near an erratic bisection of labour. At times this performance demands a teasing apart of the textual strata whose chitchat comes together to form a compelling essay (sermon or lecture). But it is a mistake to examine this text at the expense of relapsing into the predetermined laws of genre which Kane has both included and removed as an ethical principle. It is here that critical examination of the Kane and Skuse together(ness) must meet, embrace, describe and discuss a differentiated consensus of erratic tasks that cultural writers must learn to live with. The witness, be they audience, critic or both, must find a way to hear Kane and see Skuse driven by the theatrical process itself and refuse recourse to the transcendental self or some inherent political (moral) imperative. Kane asks us to find ourselves in the path she has set which is no set path, and to refuse her is to (un)see ourselves into convenient blindness. Kane sets the framework (literature, genre, time and language) in order to alleviate the value-laden with the abnormality and relentlessness of articulation. She assembles specificity against the law of genre which accomplishes frantically in the name of a precision it then maneuvers to discard at every turn.

Like the truest secret, this one lies fully exposed to the public sphere and is regularly engulfed in the name and practice of poetic reverie. Rather than resorting to the cracking of semiotic codes it would be its own error to suggest the poetic moments are a guide to underlying motives or first causes. Rather, as Anthony Skuse laces Sarah Kane with three then illuminates the audience to make many more, the Derrida reference to multiplicity and meaning leaks onto the stage. Alexander Berlage switches bars of light surrounding the inmates to hot yellow points of breviary, compression and detonation that inward-ache, gathering at the eyes of the audience/witness. Mirrors here are not for reflection, they are inclusion, presenting an always already multiplicity that Sarah Kane demands as a starting point. This is an inclusion that, under these conditions, gathers itself into a degraded and forbidding work. When Anthony Skuse releases Sarah Kane onto the stage he demarcates the point at which philosophy delivers itself over to deliberating, where language finds and creates a critical mass sufficient to release itself from the sway of logic. However, Skuse interprets Kane as a disruption of a nonexistent communal life and a psychological coherence normally committed to (un)seeing itself. The full weight of this production rests on Anthony Skuse underpinning and yet light holding of the text, Alex Berlage’s invasive lights, Benjamin Freeman’s somnambulist sounds and the performances of Lucy Heffernan, Ella Prince and Zoe Trilsbach. The three women are fully conjugable and act as points of entry or gateways for the text. Skuse directs with control while Kane speaks into the abyss.

4:48 Psychosis is another superb piece of independent theatre in Sydney, underlying again the value of Australia’s capacity for the interpretation of foreign text, and our ability to extend conversationally into the global discourse. Sydney is easily one of the best places in the world to experience independent theatre in 2017.