New Diorama Theatre
Reviewed – 21st September 2018
“a productive insight into the problems of deaf mental health patients, forcing us to confront the fact that their experiences are rarely considered”
4.48 Psychosis is the final work by British playwright Sarah Kane, an unflinching and often violent portrayal of a life lived on the brink of suicide. It has no characters. It has no setting. It has a script, and nothing more. Safe to say, it’s not what you’d call accessible.
It’s a pleasant surprise, therefore, that this collaboration between the New Diorama Theatre and Deafinitely Theatre has resulted in something that is not only accessible to the average theatre-goer, but also speaks to a group that is too often excluded from the conversation. Deafinitely Theatre’s Artistic Director Paula Garfield reimagines Kane’s play (which, having no identifiable characters or visuals, is dependent on its dialogue) as a comment on mental health in the deaf community. Performed in a mixture of British Sign Language and English, Garfield aims to create a piece that is ‘engaging’ for deaf audiences while also exploring the problems faced by deaf mental health patients.
Garfield envisions a version of 4.48 Psychosis that has both a social and artistic impact: she achieves both of these aims. By creating a loose narrative from Kane’s fragmentary text, she effectively explores how difficult it is to explain the reality of living with a mental health condition. The play features two doctors, both of whom are hearing, and two deaf patients. The patients must attempt to make themselves understood before health professionals with questionable levels of sympathy. Kane’s dialogue shows that this is hard enough for a hearing patient; here, the actors’ evocative use of sign language amplifies this even further. From the perspective of a hearing audience member, this is a productive insight into the problems of deaf mental health patients, forcing us to confront the fact that their experiences are rarely considered.
At the same time, Garfield maintains the essence of Kane’s play. Although she makes the dialogue and its meaning feel a little more familiar, a strange, almost otherworldly quality remains. Enclosed in a tiny hospital room and shielded from the audience by a plastic screen, the characters seem like part of a dystopian fantasy. They wrestle with volatile emotions under sudden flashes of harsh light, as Kane’s lyrical text are projected behind them; they march in formation as they reveal their most intimate thoughts. Although the actors have distinct characters, they balance their nuanced and naturalistic performances with a commitment to Kane’s abstract presentation. Garfield does not attempt to simplify the content, and the actors fully commit to her vision with force.
4.48 Psychosis may not be for everyone: almost two decades after its first performance, it continues to shock and disturb. But Deafinitely Theatre’s landmark production demonstrates not only its value, but its ever-expanding potential to explore untold stories.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Becky Bailey
New Diorama Theatre until 13th October
Previously reviewed at this venue