Knowing that 4.48 Psychosis was the last play dramatist Sarah Kane wrote before committing suicide in 1999 makes watching this experimental take on clinical depression even more profound. The script dictates no specific characters, and there is no plot. Rather, the play expresses the internal workings of a mind (minds?) suffering from depression through abstract, poetic language. Working with such a free script means direction is everything, and the strengths of Alice Rafter’s interpretation are not about finding clarity in the mire, but constructing a series of colliding and intersecting figures and sentiments that serve to pose even more questions.
Two girls – friends, possibly lovers – sit on a white double mattress at the centre of a circle formed by the audience. Everywhere is the stage, and there’s nowhere to look beside this spece which comes to represent the inside of the characters’ minds. One is depressed, the other trying to help. They talk, fight, cuddle and spoon while a chorus of equally tormented figures emerge from seats in the audience and confront them with fragmented insights into their mental state. Are these fellow sufferers, or just the voices inside the two girls’ heads? A cold figure of medical authority detaches herself from the ensemble, weaving amongst the afflicted articulating the names of drugs, doses and frightening side-effects. In one of the play’s most memorable moments, the figures of the doctor and the friend sitting on the mattress seem to coincide, each one cracking at the same instant. It’s a scene which forces us to consider the possibility that they have been the same character all along, or at least representative of the same stance: those who are unburdened by depression, and cannot understand.
The play impresses upon its audience the omnipresence of depression. Dim or bleak light, introspective music (used to particularly emotive effect in the climactic moments) and a sea of fraught, disembodied voices turn the theatre into an inescapable sphere of melancholy. This sort of abstract drama won’t be to everyone’s taste, and in an extended piece such as this there are moments when one wishes for the gravity of the more traditional narrative devices glimpsed in scenes between the mattress-bound couple. But as a means of imparting the essence of experiencing an illness – of proving that depression is an illness – I can think of few better methods than these.