Sunday, 28 March 2010


23/3/10, Barbican

In Polish. The last play Sarah Kane wrote before her suicide, translated and apparently reimagined by a Polish company, TR Warszawa. Well-reviewed at Edinburgh a couple of years ago.

We never saw the original in English, so it's hard to tell how true this version is. Here's an illuminating review on The Arts Desk, from which I gather that the original is potentially a much richer text, in which every line can be spoken by any of the characters, and that this version limited the play's potential by turning it into a detailed investigation of female breakdown.

Here's what I wrote before reading the Arts Desk review.

It's a cry of anguish, a suicide note, a near-monologue, a glimpse into the ghastliness of mental illness and of a rational (indeed, highly talented) mind plunged into the perpetual nightmare of deep, deep depression.
The first words are "I am sad". The last words are "Watch me vanish".
The central character, presumably a Kane self-portrait, has a desperate craving for love, and an irresistible urge to attack and vilvify those who offer it. There is a contempt for doctors and their patronising, incomprehending comprehension; a series of tirades aimed at anyone who tries to offer compassion or help (the doctors are pretty dry sticks and may deserve it, but the fellow-inmate who says "I want to be your friend", the lesbian lover scarcely seem to though they are in their ways as needy as the central figure).
Not very dramatic, then, and D went to sleep. The text is clearly a gift to a certain sort of East European theatre director. I thought ti was moving and absorbing, but that was down to the staging and the central performance, not to the disjointed, collage-like text.
There was a large cast, though most had nothing to do but walk on for a few minutes and a few lines, while the central character railed at them. There were long silences.
The set represented some kind of institution, a hospital clearly, with a row of basins and a lavatory against the back wall. There was a table, brought on and off as needed, and some chairs. From time to time a portenouts male voice-over intoned numbers, counting down from 100 to near zero, which were also projected against the back wall of the set. And at one climactic moment loads of numbers were projected onto the back wall, falling in cascades, as two doctors prescribed what seemed like random doses of drugs to which the numbers related. The heroine, if we can call her that, was caught in the projections too and there was loud music (what?). The 4.48 of the title refers, apparently, to the time of day when suicides are most vulnerable.
There were downright mysterious elements to the staging -- like a wall, vertical to the audience, which moved in stages across the stage from stage left to right, and through which characters occasionally walked.
Pills were a constant motif: held in the hands, scattered (bouncing across the stage), being crunched by the actors. There were frequent blackouts: a theatrical technique of course, but also a psychological condition (I wonder if the term has the same double meanings in Polish?).
The coup de theatre came near the end when our heroine, who has progressively disrobed during the performance, is seen with her back to us against the rear wall, looking into a mirror and speaking (clearly amplified). Blackout. The lights come up and she is still there but curiously changed: old, bent, wrinkled. She turns and sits on the loo, sideways to the audience, chin resting on her hand in a pose like Rodin's Thinker; a light comes on downstage to reveal our heroine on a chair in a similar pose, sideways to the audience.

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