“and who do you blame?
I blame myself”
It’s not often that a line strikes me so strongly I have to pause to reread it, and reread it and reread it again. “Depression is anger” this is potentially my favourite line from Sarah Kane’s last play ‘4.48 Psychosis’ and was the line that got me hooked. Kane is now one of my favourite playwrites, and her work is suddenly back in the spotlight as ‘Cleansed’ is currently being performed at the National Theatre in London. So what is so special about her work?
Sarah Kane is an English playwrite who wrote in the 1990s, up until her suicide in 1999. She wrote on a variety of themes, exploring the relationship between love, desire, and depression in a brutally stark way. Kane’s plays take conventional theatre and smash it completely. Watching a Kane play is a visceral experience, you are as repulsed as you are confused, and intrigued.
In ‘4.48’ there are no specified characters, rather the narrative appears to change tone, and this is used to suggest new characters. There are no props, stage directions, or costumes, in fact the play is devoid of anything bar its haunting dialogue. This is what makes it so incredible. There is nothing to distract the audience or the reader from the play’s brutal subject matter, “at 4.48…I shall hang myself” the character decides to die, and through the play we see a jumble of thoughts and flash backs, glimpses into their life which suggest the possible causes of this depression. The failure of doctors to help, the overwhelming despair and lonliness of the character, but also their passion to take control of their life through their death. Oxymoronic no? Nothing is clear and nothing is sane. From random splurges of numbers to even more obscure dialogue, the play is a direct line into the chaos of a broken mind. The very ending is inconclusive, it is unclear when in the chronolgy it occurs, and where the character will end up. Yet through this blackness, Kane injects dark humour, sometimes it is so subtle you are unsure whether it is even acceptable to laugh.
“Mood: Fucking angry.
Affect: Very angry.”
The lines satirise doctors’ diagnoses, ironically being more accurate than those made by the professionals, and equally incapable of helping the character recover. It is lines like these, little interjections of wry humour which truly display Kane’s genius.
The open text style makes the play challenging to understand, and the lack of defined characters means the play becomes one tangled jumble of words, but this is precisely what it should be – a mess. There is a lot of explicit language in her work, so it is certainly not for the easily offended, but the way Kane dismantles and redefines the nature of plays is fascinating to behold. Give it a read, it’s worth the struggle.