4.48 Psychosis: Mental Health Struggles Performed For An Audience

Teo Dawn

4.48 Psychosis written by the late Sarah Kane was the British playwright’s final work, or even a suicide note, if you will. The lines have haunted the theatre scene ever since it was first staged in London during the year 2000, and it was one of the loudest calls to action for mental health of the decade. Even today, 20 years later, mental health still struggles against social stigma, misunderstandings and do not necessarily get the state support it deserves to further its reach and help as many people who may require mental health care.

The relevance of staging 4.48 Psychosis today is no coincidence, with a 2016 study citing that one in seven will face at least one mental health issue in their lifetime in Singapore. With Kane’s style of writing, its raw honesty and each line like a stab to the gut, just reading the play seems so precious—as if one is holding onto the final moments of her life, her voice and her point of view. After all, it is about Kane’s clinical depression from her personal point of view and experience of it.

Done by the Intercultural Theatre Institute‘s graduating cohort and directed by the school’s award-winning alumni Andy Ng Wai-Shek, the 100 minute performance is multilingual and boasts several physical theatre expressions which is a glimpse into the school’s training curriculum and ethos. Having seen the consistent choice of using multilingualism and physical theatre work being done by the graduating cohort each year, I am beginning to wonder if these artistic choices of displaying the students’ accumulated skills precede what serves the chosen script or performance material.

Nevertheless, the artistic concept by Ng is an interesting one. Each scene comes at you like a snapshot in time, a fluid memory that is open to manipulation and retelling. Simplicity is key and being able to capture the essence in each scene seems like Ng’s goal with this production. The geometrically-inclined set by Dorothy Png and costumes are all stark white in contrast to the Drama Centre Black Box walls. White, as in purity, distilled, sterile but also untouchable and endless possibilities. The actors dressed in white and the set pieces of slopes, stairs and different sizes of rectangles seem to float in the middle of space. Where does this all begin and where is the end?

This liminal space and dimension between worlds, conceptually, is beautifully thought out and in a cerebral way, I appreciate it.

However, the execution seems to be a different story altogether. The ensemble consisting of Kyongsu Kathy Han, Li-chuan Lin (a.k.a. Aki), Prajith K Prasad, Ramith Ramesh, Rhian Hiew Khai Chin work well together, pulling off stunts that require trust and chemistry within the group. In terms of the delivery of lines and the sensitivities of complementing the acting to text, I raise an eyebrow to a couple of instances. Many moments are delivered loud and large, which comes across as overly-performative and causes certain subtleties to be lost in the process. This consistent loudness soon lost its credibility and eventually becomes suffocating, with pain and suffering only coloured with one brush when in fact it is nuanced, layered and delicately complex.

So I am thankful for the softer moments I witness between Lin and Hiew, when their gestures are done with grace, depth and a sense of grounding I wish the rest of the production shared.

The work 4.48 Psychosis itself is a powerful piece, but with this power comes responsibility and it does not seem that this production done by ITI was ready to wield it yet.

Photography credits: Bernie Ng


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