Wednesday, November 21, 2012

4:48 Psychosis

Canberra Youth Theatre

Directed by Karla Conway

The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre

Reviewed by Len Power 19 November 2012

Should ‘youth theatre’ be a protective learning environment for our young actors?  If so, Canberra Youth Theatre’s production of ‘4:48 Psychosis’ might leave you wondering.

Written by Sarah Kane, who committed suicide shortly after finishing the play, it was produced posthumously at the famous Royal Court Theatre in London in 2000.  According to the director’s program notes, ‘Kane’s writing reflects the In-Yer-Face Movement of the 1990s – a new form designed to shake the audience, to snap them out of passivity and apathy, to be tortured (if necessary) into action’.

The play takes us deep into the mind of a young woman hospitalised with severe depression.  Played by a group of women to show different facets of the illness, we witness a number of gut-wrenching sessions with her psychiatrist leading up to her inevitable suicide.

The director, Karla Conway, has achieved performances of great depth from the entire cast of young women.  The violence and anger played out before us is frightening and confronting.  The seemingly cold and clinical psychiatrist is also clearly affected emotionally by the anguish of the patients she deals with daily.

The cleverly designed set of hanging plastic sheeting gives an impression of a sterile hospital environment.  It was designed by Hanna Sandgren and is complemented by the lighting of Samantha Pickering and sound design by Michael Foley and composer, Rose Ottley.  It’s quite a shock moment when the lighting changes on what we thought was clear plastic to find it is actually covered in graffiti saying over and over, ‘RSVP ASAP’.

The night I saw the show, it seemed to have a wobbly start, or was it supposed to be that way?  This is a play that doesn’t follow any audience expectations.  I had some difficulty at times hearing the dialogue clearly and I thought it would have had more dramatic effect if it had finished with the powerful image of the girl’s suicide, rather than trailing off with an unnecessary epilogue.

This was a very brave and worthwhile play for a youth theatre to stage.  It deals unflinchingly with issues confronted and experienced by young people.  Too often, theatre practitioners talk about their plays being ‘relevant’, but this play certainly is.

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