4.48 Psychosis Remains The Darkest Hour In Theatre

4.48 Psychosis, Lyric Hammersmith ★★★☆☆

By Matthew Holder Last edited 6 months ago

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4.48 Psychosis Remains The Darkest Hour In Theatre 4.48 Psychosis, Lyric Hammersmith 3
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

There is a bleak side to the 1990's, from grunge through to the work of the Young British Artists. Yet few artworks from the era can match the bleakness of Sarah Kane's vision, and it's hard not to see 1999's 4.48 Psychosis as a long suicide note.

Though plotless and without characters, this opera version from ROH with six singers set in a hospital-white set unfolds skilfully around Gweneth-Ann Rand's suffering heroine, hell-bent on taking her own life. Philip Venables' music, projected text and sung voices combine ingeniously into a debate on reason and suicide, of medication and salvation, until her journey's end.

As opera, there is a choral quality to the suffering on display that at times echoes Greek tragedy. Scientific names of the drugs that might work to combat the 'chemistry' inside her brain, are projected like the names of the gods that have abandoned her or might yet save her. Yet the withered life force the play represents can find little meaning in the pain of existence.

This, if anything, is the problem with this version of the play. While the sung parts are haunting at times and music from CHROMA —the ensemble behind the performance — is discordant in the right places, this dramatic shaping can render the experience a bit static. However, there is no doubting the power of what is achieved here.

4.48 Psychosis, Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King Street, W6 0QL, £15-£40, until 4 May

Last Updated 26 April 2018