|Written by||Sarah Kane|
|Date premiered||23 June 2000|
|Place premiered||Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London|
4.48 Psychosis is a play by British playwright Sarah Kane. It was her last work, first staged at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on 23 June 2000, nearly one and a half years after Kane's death on 20 February 1999. The play has no explicit characters or stage directions; this continues the style of her previous production entitled Crave. Stage productions of the play vary greatly, therefore, with between one and several actors in performance; the original production featured three actors. According to Kane's friend and fellow-playwright David Greig, the title of the play derives from the time, 4:48 a.m., when Kane, in her depressed state, often woke.
The play's main subject is clinical depression, a disorder from which Kane suffered. She killed herself after writing the play, before its initial performance. Rather than claiming that it tries to cover depression as a whole, it might be fairer on the text to say that it is a very subjective presentation of depression, giving the audience an insight into one particular case (or perhaps providing specifics on several individual cases). Contemplation and discussion of suicide are prominent and while there is no strict narrative or timeline, certain issues and events are clearly dealt with: deciding whether to take medication to treat depression, the desires of the depressed mind, the effects and effectiveness of medication, self-harm, suicide and the possible causes of depression. Other themes that run throughout the script, in addition to depression, are those of isolation, dependency, relationships, and love.
4.48 Psychosis is composed of twenty-four sections which have no specified setting, stage directions or characters. Its language varies between the naturalistic and the highly abstract or poetic, an extension of the style which Kane had developed in Crave, where she had begun significantly to marry form and content. Certain images are repeated within the script, particularly that of "hatch opens, stark light"; a repeated motif in the play is "serial sevens" which involves counting down from one hundred by sevens, a bedside test often used by psychiatrists to test for loss of concentration or memory.
Owing to its form, productions of the play differ vastly in their staging, casting and design. Aside from the initial production of 4.48 Psychosis at the Royal Court in 2000, there have been performances of 4.48 Psychosis at Old Red Lion Theatre (Tangram Theatre, 2006), Arcola Theatre (2006), the Young Vic Theatre (2009), the Barbican Theatre (TR Warszawa, Easter 2010), Access Theatre (Raw Theatre Group, Easter 2010), The Theatre Project (Off Off-Broadway - The Red Room, Summer 2010), ADC Theatre (October 2010), York Theatre Royal (March 2011), Sittingbourne Community College Theatre Company (July 2011), The Hamilton Fringe Festival at Theatre Aquarius [Black Box Fire Theatre Company, July 2011] and the George Ignatieff Theatre at University of Toronto (27-29 October 2011), Fourth Monkey Theatre Company (March 2012), Rangi Ruru Girls' School performed it in the New Zealand Theatre Federation Festival (September 2012), and Crooked Pieces (Drayton Theatre London, September 2012).
A critically acclaimed adaptation of the play, as translated into Polish with English language surtitles, was performed at the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival by the Polish theatre company TR Warszawa. The production starred Polish film actress Magdalena Cielecka and featured a number of other performers from TR Warszawa in supporting roles. This was a revival of TR Warszawa's earlier production of the play, as performed in Warsaw. Indian director Arvind Gaur performed this play as a one woman show with British actress Ruth Sheard in 2005.
4.48 Psychosis divides opinion between critics and audiences and due to the subject matter of the play and Kane's subsequent suicide, some critics have had difficulty in distinguishing the play from the reality of Kane's life. Michael Billington of The Guardian newspaper asked, "How on earth do you award aesthetic points to a 75-minute suicide note?" Charles Spencer of the Telegraph said "it is impossible not to view it as a deeply personal howl of pain" David Greig considered the play to be "perhaps uniquely painful in that it appears to have been written in the almost certain knowledge that it would be performed posthumously."
References to the play
The Swedish metal band Aktiv Dödshjälp released an album called 4:48, based on the play.
- Greig, David. 2001. Introduction. Complete Plays by Sarah Kane. London: Methuen. ISBN 978-0-413-74260-5. p.ix-xviii.
- Kane, Sarah. 2001. 4:48 Psychosis. In Complete Plays. London: Methuen, 2001. ISBN 978-0-413-74260-5. p. 203-245.
- Ryan, Betsy Alayne. 1984. Gertrude Stein's Theatre of the Absolute. Theater and Dramatic Studies Ser., 21. Ann Arbor and London: UMI Research Press. ISBN 0-8357-2021-7.
- 4.48 Psychosis at the Literary Encyclopedia
- A Controlled Detonation: The Protean Voice of 4:48 Psychosis (first seven fragments) detailed analysis of 4.48 Psychosis