4.48 Psychosis at the Lyric Hammersmith
Unflinchingly faithful to writer Sarah Kane’s original and final play of the same name, the world première of composer Philip Venables’ operatic adaptation of 4.48 Psychosis is an arresting, affecting, haunting whirlwind, perfectly encapsulating the chaotic, discordant world inside the mind of a declining manic depressive.
The backdrop to a stark exploration of the human condition, at first look the staging has the simplistic, sterile air of a doctor’s waiting room, or perhaps psych ward, with fittingly impersonal pre-recorded elevator music piped across the theatre as the audience take their seats, silently still musicians seated above the set. However, ably assisted by DM Wood’s lighting, it quickly sheds and acquires different skins at lightning speed as each self-contained scene moves harshly and abruptly from one to the next, with no explanation or let-up.
There really is no let-up. At a continuous 90 minutes, from anguished monologue to hauntingly soft dialogue to an often literal “polyphony of inner voices”, the six-strong female cast play masterfully in Venables’ interplay of the sung, spoken and written word, with stand-out performances from soprano Gweneth Ann-Rand and mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer, the nature of the unassigned script often visually as well as audibly adding to the well-orchestrated disarray.
Under conductor Richard Baker’s baton, Venable’s uncomfortably beautiful, stripped-back but richly textured orchestration and discomfiting mix of pre-recorded and live sounds beautifully convey and complement the natural percussive cadences and often lyrical nature of Kane’s raw, powerful words. This is perhaps most wonderfully achieved in recurring conversational scenes between doctor and patient, the first few instances featuring no voices at all, but rather a literal conversation between percussion, the words projected onto a darkened set; single note drums perfectly capturing the light and shade of human speech patterns and cleverly injecting an impressive, dark humour into the exchanges.
With the events of Kane’s own life in mind, the uncomfortable inevitability of death is ever-present, and as the piece builds towards it, towards that perceived escape, the tone both visually and musically appears to warm and soften slightly, culminating in a desperate, but oddly peaceful final scene.
A tour de force of emotion with a genuine, horrible intimacy, the rapturous applause as the stage switched to black, though thoroughly deserved, nevertheless felt slightly at odds with the bitter intensity of the final act; an unsettling but unflinchingly real spell, broken itself by reality once again.
Photos: Stephen Cummiskey
4.48 Psychosis is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from 23rd until 28th May 2016, for further information or to book visit here.