Review: 4.48 Psychosis

March 24, 2010


I was left frozen to my chair, a few feet away from the stage, tears in my eyes and a sense of emptiness, a barren existence in my stomach, and a need to pack away my emotions, my mental state, and keep them under lock and key. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sarah Kane’s finest play, 4.48 Psychosis in a truly harrowing production by TR Warszawa.

Kane’s work entered my reading material a few years back. I was possibly too young at the time to truly understand the true affect that Kane had with her poetic language. Whatever it was that I got from it, was a sense of freedom… a sense that Kane was writing everything I wanted to say. She uses the most vulgar language, she explodes apart linear narrative, and expects a series of numbers to form a body of dialogue/text – and I happily bathed in the words.

Then my dissertation came around, and once again Kane reared her epic plays before me, by that overused term ‘In-Yer-Face Theatre’. Yet during all of this time I had only seen student productions of the text, with little design and little outcome. Having missed Blasted when it was shown at the Barbican a few years back, it was time I settled my deal with Kane – this time, 4.48 Psychosis in a Polish version.

Everything about this production is exquisitely created, formed and unleashed upon the audience with devastating power and conviction.

Grzegorz Jarzyna has finely squeezed Kanes text through a translation by Klaudyna Rozhin, almost distilled the essence of disorder, crumbling insanity, and a desire to kill yourself and laid it upon a stage. Everything is exposed, and as an audience member you really get a feeling that Jarzyna wants the whole performance to be painfully uncomfortable.

As the centre piece to Jarzyna’s production is Magdalena Cieleka who throws herself about the stage, swallowing pill after pill, cutting her wrists and displaying extreme forms of delusion, paranoia and a lack of mental stability. She is completely engrossing to watch, yet equally disturbing. Cieleka stares out across the audience with accusing eyes, she screams at us – she pleads for freedom and acceptance – and as an audience we become voyeurs to break down.

Cieleka is without a doubt, remarkable.

There is a strong clinical affect from the stage design by Małgorzata Szczęśniak – the wipe clean floors and rows of sinks add this medical instinct. With a lighting design by Felice Ross that brutally cuts apart the stage, and at times the actors – the action is centred, trapped, imprisoned like the words that are spoken. Together they bring about the force and power that the text can justly deliver.

4.48 Psychosis is about tearing apart the mental state of a lost figure or narrator. In TR Warszawa’s version it displays fragmented moments, memories of this woman who clearly is not well. Oddly, the production does make sense in narrative form, each scene is interjected by a prolonged black out, as if we are inside this woman’s head experiencing moments of black outs of memory. The use of a projected number sequence to both countdown the performance and increase with the number of varying drugs being given as treatment escalates to a climax that sent shivers down my spine and an overwhelming desire to shout ‘stop it’. Yet I was powerless.

TR Warszawa manage to get beneath the text, draw upon the key themes and get to the heart of it’s audience. It potrays a split personality, the use of a child and older woman adds depth to the already fragmented character/voice that Cieleka plays by giving a history, a future of this person. Despite being obvious to use, they represent so much.

I could go on and list detail after detail that was executed with perfection, but that gives away the experience.

For me, this was uncateogrically the best and most haunting piece of theatre this year.

4.48 Psychosis is at the Barbican Theatre until the 27th March. More details on their website. Also see TR Warszawa’s website for more shows (the site is also in English).