No hope. No hope. No hope. No hope. No hope. Suicidal despair at it’s most palpable. Grim words penned by UK playwright Sarah Kane just before she took her own life in 1999 in this her final work, a gritty and explicit insight into the deepest recesses of depression.
Alyson Campbell, like any director who stages this particular Kane play has an unenviable task. To craft a production that can happily dispense with invoking the tragic fate of its author, as a sort of bioplay or portrait of the artist as a depressive. And instead foreground the eviscerating immensity, savage wonder and integrity of the written word. Campbell has delivered a theatre event that sets out to serve new audiences, to entertain, to illuminate bittersweet darkness in the collective soul.
Kane’s is a brutal poetry that sheds light on the teetering brink of suicide. 4:48 is ostensibly a stream of consciousness poem without identifiable characters, stage directions or author notes. Ultimately in this production Campbell elects to portray Kane’s work as a Paean to the ferocity of bi-polar disorder, in four voices, and admonishes a sense of hope equally as the sense of no hope.
4:48 maps the palsy of conflicted emotions (which Kane herself was known to mediate during her brief but luminous adult creative life). Campbell and her superb cast unleash the beauty of Kane’s words, and indeed the flicker of redemption embodied in the metaphor of 4:48, a recurring motif when peace inhabits the soul, momentarily. (Kane is said to have awoken calmly at 4:48 throughout her illness)
Four actors (Red Stitch ensemble member Olivia Connolly with guest actors, Richard Bligh, Tom Davies and Suzette Williams) tackle the words and mixed emotions as a chorus of sorts, a fragmented chorus bearing down deftly on the fragmented poetry within the play. The ensemble delivers a resounding and playful array of voices foregrounding the rhythm of words, their meter, alliteration, lyricism and elegiac tone. It is this predisposition to poetic, rather than emotive interpolation or expressive angst that serves Campbell’s direction well. Actors fluctuate between stylization, naturalism and expressive Jacobean voices (which Kane admired) threading agony and ecstasy into a sublime tapestry of discontent. It is simultaneously challenging, confronting and awesome.
In one of many standout scenes, the actors shuffle like a slapstick chorus line citing in sing songy fashion the ebbs and flows of a life beset by chemical cocktails of prescriptive medicine, debilitating exasperating side effects, and the inevitable, a penultimate will to suicide.
4:48 is uttered earnestly by each actor throughout the play; it interrupts the unrelenting darkness of depression, like an interval, mystical almost. 4:48 we learn is the cursory time when sanity resides, in the quietude of early morning as first light unfurls. It is this motif for redemption, albeit fleeting, that tends to linger. Kane’s metaphor lends us to nature’s greatest cycle, night and day. Maybe Kane is reminding us that golden daylight surely follows the long dark night of the soul. Memorable, nuanced performances. Must see for newcomers to Kane and Kane aficionados alike.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Sarah Kane
Directed by Alyson Campbell
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
Dates: Fri July 27 – Sat August 25
Previews: Wed 25 and Thurs 26 July - $18
Times: Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Duration: approx 70 mins
Bookings: www.redstitch.net (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083 @ $30/20