I thought it was about time I tried to really think about the experience and emotions that my most recent production brought up, so this is likely to be very poorly structured and, well, messy.
Recently, I had the great pleasure to perform with Greenroom Productions; the younger offshoot of one of the longest running am-dram socs in my area, the Woolgatherers. I auditioned for a part in Blood Wedding, only to find that they were postponing that particular play and would I like to be a part of something else instead?
I did, and that something was Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis.
I was hesitant, to say the least, after reading the original script. I live with depression and anxiety, and the text was… resonant is not a strong enough word. I was worried I would commit and suddenly find myself unable to cope, or that I would get so lost in someone else’s experiences that I’d forget they weren’t my own. I’ve always, unfortunately, had a tendency to over empathise.
The play, for anyone not familiar, was the last work of the playwright Sarah Kane. It is an expression of clinical depression – not, I would say, in general terms but a subjective presentation of one person’s experiences and truth. It reads, to be blunt, like a 35 page suicide note. Not easy reading. Sarah Kane killed herself after writing it, before it’s first performance (it was staged a year and a half after her death, by a friend). That fact is impossible to ignore when putting it on; almost as if she’s in every line.
The original script is very free-form, more like poetry than script to me, and our director took on the monumental task of working it into scenes. It is, as far as I know, common with this work – the script has no real dialogue, no stage directions, no order. It’s every students dream as anything you create has to be devised, has to be interpreted. Our director did wonderfully – I can’t really say how impressed I was at how well he managed to order the script, without losing it’s power and resonance.
Working on 4.48 has been unlike anything I’ve ever done – as I said, I’m still processing the experience. I’ve only ever done… well, Shakespeare, really. Classic and structured, even when directors attempt a new spin on an old song, it’s always recognizably staid. You know, in a rough sketch at least, what you’ll be doing on stage when you say this line or that.
What we did onstage with this play came entirely from ourselves, and that was both invigorating and terrifying. The former because it was truly an ensemble piece – our director was quite clear that ideas were welcome and ended up using more than a few. The latter because, in a small way, we were taking more responsibility than just taking directions and putting our hearts into them. If we suggested something crap and he didn’t catch it, the moment would fall flat and we would feel it. It was heady and scary, to have input.
It was also a challenge just listening to the words. So many of the lines echoed thoughts or experiences I’ve had in my own struggle with these disorders. At times, I would find myself staring at a cast member and forgetting my cue because the words just… rang, it my head. I was lucky – the company were understanding and wonderfully kind when it came to those of us who were close to the subject (I was not the only one), so these moments passed will little fanfare. Still, it is rather like weeding a garden you know has skeletons buried in it – you can avoid them, but you’re aware every time what your hands are passing over.
I think, in the end, it was a good thing. Not least because I would have felt like a coward if I hadn’t taken the opportunity. I met wonderful people, I stepped outside my creative comfort zone, I stepped outside my personal comfort zone, and we put on a production I was incredibly intensely proud of.