A difficult play that tries to bring suicide, self-hatred and a fragmented mental interior onto stage, 4.48 Psychosis is not for the faint hearted. Nicholas Ashurst’s production achieves an effectively intense atmosphere, yet the lethargic pacing of the show – at first reminiscent of a numbness to reality – gradually became a detriment.
The white-sheeted set looked good to begin with, and its eventual partial destruction was a neat metaphoric technique for exploring the mind set of someone with severe mental illness; the feelings of emptiness which could give way to rage and distress. The swings at the back of the stage were such a nice touch that I feel more could have been done with them. The first one snapping within the opening minute was surprisingly effective for making us feel off-balance, but since the tone of the play was quite muted, to have the actresses occasionally actually swing on the swings could have emphasised the dismissive and patronising manner the doctors seemed to adopt. The performers (Isla Cowan, Ruby Kwong and Rute Costa) as different facets of the patient's mind as well as the doctors, seemed uneasy with the set at times which felt to be real discomfort rather than arising from the effects of mental illness.
The performances also swung between being intensely quiet and attempting to instil energy. The aggressive tirade of ‘Fuck You's directed at the audience felt void of any genuine rage. For the self-harm sequence, the Marina and the Diamonds song worked well and the physical theatre for that section was impressive; there was real rhythm and it was at this point that the play started to pick up pace. The physical theatre aspect at other points was slightly more hit and miss. It was good for connecting the three actresses together, since Kane’s disjointed narrative is one of the more challenging aspects of the play so we have to rely on tone of voice and delivery, or here, physicality to try and ground ourselves. However in an attempt to look cohesively disjointed, we were left with clumsiness.
There is very little theatre in Cambridge quite like this. It is a production genuinely taking risks and tackling issues we rarely see on stage. For these reasons alone it is worth a watch. Far from perfect, but clearly created by an interesting and interested creative team.