As audience members entered the Reading Room with seat numbers in hand, I felt I was mentally prepared for Sarah Kane’s inevitably intense 4.48 Psychosis. I was wildly mistaken.
As a member of the audience, my seat was one of many fragments of Sarah’s mind. While initially appearing randomized, the jagged seating arrangement transformed into a representation of complex networks of the brain. Paired with the rising and falling of sinister sounds, the audience was forced to the center of Sarah Kane’s depression.
“We had a big brainstorming session about how we could give the audience the experience of being inside someone’s head,” director and commonplace theatre founder Chantel Martin said.
“We decided that if we throw [the audience] everywhere and actually surround them … they could feel like they were part of the world that we created.”
The world of the play became all the more spellbinding as actors Kennedy Wilson and Zach Closs emerged as two aspects of Sarah’s consciousness.
Although the two parts of Sarah’s mind understood each other’s pain, they continued to torment each other.
As one aspect grasped a brief glimmer of hope, the other snuffed it out. Closs and Wilson demonstrated a breathtaking display of the ways depression destroys self-support.
Kennedy Wilson succeeded in the difficult task of conveying simultaneous hope and hopelessness. As she fought with her demons of depression, while trying to “remember the light” — as she says throughout — Wilson created the pinnacle of human vulnerability.
Zach Closs was fantastically unpredictable, eliciting compassion from the audience even as his character experienced extreme bouts of rage. His character’s twisted physique served as a powerful demonstration of the depression’s impact: the pain of the illness atop the sting of judgment from those with sound minds.
As Sarah’s doctor, Shalon Webber-Heffernan constantly veered from a role as a cold-cut clinician to compassionate character and back again.
Webber-Heffernan projected a caring, empathetic demeanour, even while her character told Sarah to take responsibility for her self-harm. The intention was clear: caring for those with mental illness isn’t the same as knowing how to react in the face of it.
A sharp lighting scheme made the show even more powerful. Designed by Kevin Tanner, the sequence turned on a dime from faint flickers of the mind into the bright, harsh light of Sarah’s reality.
“That was really neat to us … sort of like these synapses going off in Sarah’s brain,” Martin said, adding that the lighting put the audience at the centre of Sarah’s tortured thoughts. “Which is uncomfortable, when people are that close!”
4.48 Psychosis was a challenge: a challenge to watch, and a challenge to walk away from. Hopefully, the impact of this unique show will encourage even more confrontational theatre from student directors. Judging from 4.48 Psychosis, it’s clear that commonplace theatre provokes rather than placates.
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