|Published on Monday, 13 August 2012|
In. Out. In. Out. The pulsing electrophonic squeeze of sound surrounds a lone, pale figure, sat centre stage. It thrums, low and shuddering from audience to stage, drawing the eye inwards, transforming you from observer to witness. In this black room, with the single blazing light, it’s like stepping into someone else’s mindscape – that of the solitary stranger whitened by the glare. Something changes. Absurd, clownish figures burst out from the dark space; twenty of them, lined up five-by-four, obscuring the figure we have been watching thus far. She panics in the middle. They breathe around her loudly. In. Out. In. Out. Reminders of life and mortality.
Welcome to Sarah Kane’s most experimental and controversial piece of theatre, and the terrifying, bewildering world created by The Fourth Monkey. Abject misery is the beating heart of 4.48 Psychosis, pumping blood thick with despair throughout its body. Themes accentuate problems of Self, Non-Self and Self-as-Other, illustrating the mind that’s struggling to hold itself together; reaching for clarity that’s lost in a cacophony of fragmentary, psychotic caricatures. With the ‘self’ so lost in its quagmire of alienation, the absence of traditional plotlines and familiar forms of character development is unsurprising. Yet the all-female cast of Fourth Monkey’s adaptation cohere elements of the play into sub-stories, creating a space in which ‘4.48, the happy hour when clarity visits’ seems almost true.
However, pervasive mental illness is ever-present in the rapidly shifting scenes. Wild-haired, sunken-eyed, that first girl on stage appears as the main voice of the performance. Then as the eerie, antagonistic Others dash about the space, you note more and more that every girl is dressed in teal – is blanched with hollowed eyes. Every one of them has a character, a persona that overwhelms them: pompous Doctor This, proud Doctor That, despicable Doctor Dr Whatsit ‘who's just passing and thought he'd pop in to take the piss as well’. There’s the pixie-like, winged Faith and the embodiments of Anger; and each has a stance, a face, a type of dress. Each has a uniqueness, and a sameness that refuses to let you think of any of them as individual. Through character acting and the visceral physicality of their performance, you realise that nothing is at all what it seems.
A surprising element is humour. With Steven Green’s dark wit running beneath every Voice, the adaptation has us guiltily giggling, snickering at the wondrously absurdist vision on stage. Every caricature has a type of voice: gravelly, nasal, breathy, and many of those voices are happy. Faith’s voice is full of high, sing-song naivety; another constantly laughs through her lines; another seems so overtly exuberant she becomes ridiculous, yet hers is the line ‘I am a complete failure as a person,’ a peculiar pairing that has you disarmed from the outset. The same goes for the memorable scene in which doctors compare the symptoms, medicines and reactions that their patient has – their competition, to see who can make that patient suffer most, is vibrant and terrifying. Yet you realise this is just the interpretation of a single mind, that all of this is based upon a subjective internal reality that we can never be sure of.
Furthermore, as the music (Jamie Flockton) unsettles the audience, the lights (Pablo Fernandez Baz) dramatise the internality of every action. Stark light through the floor, balancing on a path of illumination, pursuing a lover, being pursued by death, constantly dancing around a central square that acts as if to indicate the dominant speaking voice. Everything comes together in Fourth Monkey’s production – using a difficult script with skill and complexity, weaving a story into a plotless stream-of-consciousness.
Grizzly, anonymous, provocative, confrontational and cruel as this piece of theatre is, it is also an abstract on the individuality of human nature, a commentary on personal identity and experience. And even as we become the ‘smiling faces... with secret knowledge of [this] aching shame’, we are witnesses to a postmodern psychosis. We are asked to examine the dark spaces between our thoughts, the secret ones that scare us. We are forced to consider the conflict of death within life. In the words of Michael Billington, we are made to judge the aesthetics of a suicide note.
Be warned. Be wary. Be wondering.
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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.