4.48 Psychosis

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4.48 Psychosis
Written by Sarah Kane
Date premiered23 June 2000 (2000-06-23)
Place premiered Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London
Original languageEnglish

4.48 Psychosis is the final play by British playwright Sarah Kane. It was her last work, first staged at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on 23 June 2000, directed by James Macdonald, nearly one and a half years after Kane's death on 20 February 1999. The play has no explicit characters or stage directions; this continues the style of her previous production entitled Crave. Stage productions of the play vary greatly, therefore, with between one and several actors in performance; the original production featured three actors. According to Kane's friend and fellow-playwright David Greig, the title of the play derives from the time, 4:48 a.m., when Kane, in her depressed state, often woke. [1]



The play is usually interpreted as an expression of the experience of clinical depression, a disorder from which Kane suffered. She died by suicide after writing the play, before its initial performance. Rather than claiming that it tries to cover depression as a whole, it might be fairer on the text to say that it is a very subjective presentation of depression, giving the audience an insight into one particular case (or perhaps providing specifics on several individual cases), but while reflecting her mental state is explicitly detached from Kane herself. Contemplation and discussion of suicide are prominent and while there is no strict narrative or timeline, certain issues and events are clearly dealt with: deciding whether to take medication to treat depression, the desires of the depressed mind, the effects and effectiveness of medication, self-harm, suicide and the possible causes of depression. Other themes that run throughout the script, in addition to depression, are those of isolation, dependency, relationships, and love, but they become aggressive, then powerless.


4.48 Psychosis is composed of twenty-four sections which have no specified setting, characters or stage directions, only including lengths of silence. Its language varies between dialogues, confessions and contemplative poetic monologues reminiscent of schizophasia, an extension of the style which Kane had developed in Crave, where she had begun significantly to marry form and content. However, here, the obliteration of language is directly linked to depression and psychosis. Certain images are repeated within the script, particularly that of "hatch opens, stark light"; a repeated motif in the play is "serial sevens" which involves counting down from one hundred by sevens, a bedside test often used by psychiatrists to test for loss of concentration or memory. Around the end of the play, the text becomes increasingly sparse, implying that the speaker is less committing suicide and more disappearing from existence.


Owing to its form, productions of the play differ vastly in their staging, casting and design. Aside from the initial production of 4.48 Psychosis at the Royal Court in 2000, there have been performances of 4.48 Psychosis at The Theatre Les Bouffes Du Nord in Paris (2005), Belarus Free Theatre in Minsk (2005), Old Red Lion Theatre (Tangram Theatre, 2006), Arcola Theatre (2006), the Young Vic Theatre (2009), the Barbican Theatre (TR Warszawa, Easter 2010), Access Theatre (Raw Theatre Group, Easter 2010), The Theatre Project (Off Off-Broadway - The Red Room, Summer 2010), ADC Theatre (October 2010), York Theatre Royal (March 2011), Sittingbourne Community College Theatre Company (July 2011), The Hamilton Fringe Festival at Theatre Aquarius [Black Box Fire Theatre Company, July 2011] and the George Ignatieff Theatre at University of Toronto (27–29 October 2011), Fourth Monkey Theatre Company (March 2012), Rangi Ruru Girls' School performed it in the New Zealand Theatre Federation Festival (September 2012), Crooked Pieces (Drayton Theatre London, September 2012), The Questors Theatre (January 2015), director Roza Sarkisian and Theatre Actor, Kyiv, Ukraine (2018), and Anton's Well Theater Company, Oakland, California (July -- August 2018). This play will be produced in Israel, at the Haifa theater in February 2015, and at The Studio Theatre, Sheffield in March 2015. It is part of the repertory of the Shanghai Drama Arts Center since 2015, directed by Dmitry Troyanovsky.

A critically acclaimed adaptation of the play, as translated into Polish with English language surtitles, was performed at the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival by the Polish theatre company TR Warszawa. The production starred Polish film actress Magdalena Cielecka and featured a number of other performers from TR Warszawa in supporting roles. This was a revival of TR Warszawa's earlier production of the play, as performed in Warsaw. [2] In 2003, there was a successful staging in Brazil, which played to a full house for six consecutive months in São Paulo, and also gained media attention for its defying gender aspect, as the role was performed by male actor Luiz Päetow. [3] Indian director Arvind Gaur performed this play as a one-woman show with British actress Ruth Sheard in 2005. [4]


4.48 Psychosis divides opinion between critics and audiences and due to the subject matter of the play and Kane's subsequent suicide, some critics have had difficulty in distinguishing the play from the reality of Kane's life. Michael Billington of The Guardian newspaper asked, "How on earth do you award aesthetic points to a 75-minute suicide note?" [5] Charles Spencer of the Telegraph said "it is impossible not to view it as a deeply personal howl of pain" [6] David Greig considered the play to be "perhaps uniquely painful in that it appears to have been written in the almost certain knowledge that it would be performed posthumously." [1]


An operatic adaptation of 4.48 Psychosis, commissioned by Royal Opera and written by British composer Philip Venables, was staged at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2016. The first such adaptation of Kane's works, the production was approved by Sarah Kane's brother, and received critical acclaim. [7] [8] [9]

References to the play

The British indie-rock band Tindersticks released a song called "4.48 Psychosis" on their album Waiting for the Moon . The song's spoken-word lyrics are excerpted from the play.

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  1. 1 2 David Greig, introduction to Sarah Kane: Complete Plays 2001
  2. The Scotsman Archived 2009-02-18 at the Wayback Machine , 16 August 2008
  3. "theatre article in Portuguese". folhasp newspaper.
  4. Sumati Mehrishi Sharma (2005-12-31). "Mind Games". The Indian Express . Archived from the original on 2009-02-17. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  5. The Guardian 30 June 2000
  6. The Telegraph 14 May 2001
  7. Wroe, Nicholas (21 May 2016). "How Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis became an opera". the Guardian.
  8. "4.48 Psychosis review". The Independent. 26 May 2016.
  9. "4.48 Psychosis opera is rawly powerful and laceratingly honest - review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 May 2016.


Further reading