Reviews West End & Central Published 4 November 2015

4.48 Psychosis

Clerkenwell House of Detention ⋄ 2nd November 2015

Ecstatic pain.

Verity Healey
Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

Credit: Nicolai Khalezin

“This is not a world within which I want to live” cries a character in one of the fragments which make up Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, a play written during her severest bout of depression: an act her friend David Greig describes as “positively heroic”.

We are told that Belarus Free Theatre’s performance, directed by Vladimir Schcherban, contains seven characters that give voice to the play’s descent into a depressive hell, but its strategy seems more simple than that as actresses Maryia Sazonava and Yana Rusakevich pound and stalk the cold cells of Clerkenwell House of Detention, the location BFT have chosen as their secret venue, and to which we were quietly shepherded at 6pm from Clerkenwell Green.

As we watch the performers, almost helpless and dumb, observe their characters in an early performance of the same production here projected onto the walls, we understand that this is about outer and inner, about trying to break out of ourselves into another self (as if meeting a doppelgänger). It’s about mirrors too, and how what is reflected back over the years gone by as well as over the physical gap between spaces, might help us try to understand something new. This is appropriate, for at the beginning of the show, Natalia Kaliada, co-founder of Belarus Free Theatre, introduced us via Skype to members of their company in Belarus, who still perform there in secret, despite being banned by the country’s dictator Alexander Lukashenko.  Waving at them as they waved at us, a mirror image, yet not quite a mirror image, separated by geography as well as ideology, we are subtly reminded of the impact civil strife and oppression can have on the self, the impact it can have on mental health.

The production doesn’t walk on egg shells. Perhaps drawing on the pained energy amassed in the former prison’s walls, the performance’s crazy wild abandon and its continuous flow of ecstatic pain, is allowed to find itself by being. It’s clever because this is exactly what happens when a person is depressed or oppresses the effects of abuse, when there is no appropriate way to behave anymore, no carefully planned words that can be chosen to illustrate how you feel. It all spills out exactly as it does here: in a torrent of words, screaming.

It is as beautiful as it is ugly.

It is “love me or leave me alone” or: kill me.

It is questioning the idea of having to exist, and yet, through its pleading hysteria and urgency, it is more alive than life itself.

The audience isn’t excluded from this. Just as we linked up with the company in Belarus at the start of the show, we are constantly linked with the actors (a BFT performance trait) through their occasional use of direct address and finger pointing.

“Fuck you for making me feel shit” they scream at us; this open form of performance allows us to recognise ourselves but also, makes us think that we are being accused. This raises a question with which Kane was sometimes concerned: what should the audience give back in return? Are we to remain passive? Is theatre merely a cathartic experience which we leave at the door of the auditorium as we exit, like discarding an umbrella in the cloakroom because the sun has come out? Or is it something that can make us actually do something, that forces us to make that painful connection between what we have seen onstage and what is happening now?

The post show discussion, an integral part of the company’s performances in Belarus and abroad, prevents us from fumbling our way out into the dark with our unanswered questions. The discussion, in partnership with Mental Health and Young People, including contributions from Dominic Dromgoole and Dr Ann York, helped connect the play’s themes with today’s troubles, especially those of the young. It also proposed direct ways in which audience members could take action for those they think are suffering mental health problems. Questions asked included: “Can you help someone who is not loved?” and “Can you help a person who is in love if it is not returned?” Reflections were made on the fact that Lukashenko is adamant that there are no mental health issues in Belarus, although suicide is the second leading cause of death in that country – and that the UK has the highest rate of suicide between 20-30 year olds in Europe.

What is gained through the coupling of these shows with discussions of this kind is the feeling of being part of a supportive community. It brings people together not just through seeing a show but by talking about it afterwards, over shared food; sharing thoughts and experiences, with the belief that change can come. As has been commented at other post-show BFT discussions: we can’t wait for the politicians. We have to make the change and be the change. This is one way to go about it.

4.48 Psychosis is part of Belarus Free Theatre’s Staging a Revolution, a two week festival of performances and discussion platforms from Belarus Free Theatre to mark their 10th anniversary, taking place from 2nd-14th November.

“Any system anywhere is afraid of people who think.” Verity Healey’s interview with Natalia Kaliada 

Performances and discussions will be live-streamed here:


Verity Healey

Verity writes for and contributes to Ministry of Counterculture and is a film facilitator for Bigfoot Arts Education. She is also a published short story writer and filmmaker.

4.48 Psychosis Show Info

Produced by Belarus Free Theatre

Directed by Vladimir Shcherban

Written by Sarah Kane

Cast includes Maryia Sazonava and Yana Rusakevich




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