4:48 Psychose

Photo credit: Nicolas Descteaux

To be or not to be? Sarah Kane resolved that question for herself with shocking finality when, in 1999, she took her own life in a London hospital, after five brief years of being one of the most celebrated and controversial playwrights in Europe. Her final, posthumously-performed play 4:48 Psychosis is like an extended modernist riff on Hamlet’s soliloquy, though with none of the indecision. “After 4:48,” her character says, “I will be silent.”

The Quebec company Les songes turbulents, are remounting their francophone production of Kane’s play, translated by Guillaume Corbeil into 4:48 Psychose and again featuring Sophie Cadieux as the isolated unnamed woman hurtling towards the final curtain. 

Cadieux’s rich, multi-layered, full-throttle performance deservedly won Quebec’s main theatre critics’ award first time around, and the opening night of this revival earned her a long and thunderous standing ovation. 

Kane’s play agonises over the impossibility of resolving body and consciousness, and Cadieux, dressed in a loose white sweater, panties and Doc Martens, brilliantly embodies a fragmented psyche. Her voice ranges from babyish mewling to weary sarcasm to guttural rage as if ventriloquizing a turbulent swarm of personalities. 

Kane’s text also splinters into different modes. Defiant invective is hurled at God, at doctors, at faithless lovers and the audience. Random numbers count down to oblivion.  Raging Biblical prophecies contrast with deadpan medication regimens and medical reports. A nightmare is recalled of a living floor of cockroaches. (Kane was something of a poet of scuttling vermin. In one play, she gave her designers a headache by calling for a swarm of rats, one of them exiting the stage with a human hand between its teeth!)

The title refers to the pre-dawn hour at which Kane, in the grip of clinical depression, often found herself waking up, when life revealed itself with blinding clarity and seething confusion. On paper, the script looks like a claustrophobic and disjointed outpouring of panic attacks, despair and self-loathing, and it’s hard to see how it might work dramatically. Because of what followed, and because of what often reads like a statement of intent, it was initially seen as a theatrical suicide note. In performance, though, it has long proved itself to be a dynamic theatrical event. It’s even been turned into an opera, courtesy of the UK’s Royal Opera.

Director Florent Siaud has also successfully discovered the beating heart of the play, aided no end by Cadieux’s blistering, sometimes caustically funny performance 

And yet…

There’s something that still feels uncomfortable about using this devastatingly personal and tragic text as a showcase for bravura acting and spectacularly baroque visuals (David Lynchian red room, video projections, a sinister passageway curving into the unknown). When it was first performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2000, the response from the audience was reportedly subdued, as though they were attending a memorial rather than a theatre première. Still, 22 years have passed, and perhaps it’s a more fitting tribute to Kane to treat her play as just that, a play to be performed and appreciated as a public work of art rather than as a private howl of pain escaping from the dark night of the soul.

4:48 Psychose plays at Théâtre Prospero, Montreal, from May 15 to 22, 2022

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Carrie: The Musical

The original High School Musical, though back when it was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988, chronic artistic misjudgement rather than anything supernatural brutally swept any potential plaudits right off the shelf. Transferring to Broadway after its Stratford-Upon-Avon run, Carrie: The Musical lasted a mere five post-preview performances before being ignominiously pulled amid bullying-teenager-style jeers.

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Guillaume Côté prepares to ensnare an unearthly prey in Crypto. Photo credit: Sasha Onyshchenko

Luca Guadagnino’s re-make of Dario Argeno’s Suspiria showed that dance can be an effective vehicle for horror, as did Black Swan before it. The 1948 Powell-Pressburger classic The Red Shoes, though by no means a horror film, had its share of creepy moments too, not least in the notion of the cursed titular footwear carrying the heroine to a grisly death.

Crypto, the latest piece from Côté Danse, which ends Danse Danse’s 2021/22 season with style, fits right into this tradition, being a kind of modern Cronenbergian ballet about a mythical creature forced to undergo horrific surgeries before turning on its tormentors.

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Radiant Vermin / Vermine radieuse

“What are you saying, Ollie? You killed a vagrant and he’s been reincarnated as a designer kitchen?” 

That’s exactly what Ollie, and playwright Philip Ridley, are saying in the latter’s 2015 absurdist black comedy, playing in a sparkling francophone production at Théâtre La Licorne directed by David Strasbourg .

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Fragile and Useless

At the beginning of Fragile and Useless, the new piece from Simon Portigal and his company LCR/IGroup/2019-2022, a voice-over urgently says “Bestie, I’m afraid to ask…” 

That quote is a TikTok thing, apparently, which I didn’t know about, so maybe I’m not the target audience of this interdisciplinary dance-theatre hybrid. And maybe that’s one reason I couldn’t quite get on board with the rapturous standing ovation from the full capacity crowd at the end of the show’s première.

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When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other (Quand nous nous serons suffisamment torturés)

Emmanuel Schwartz as The Man in Martin Crimp’s characteristically idiosyncratic take on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. Photo credit: Maxime Robert-Lachine

As well as being one of the first novels in the English language, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela can also lay claim to being one of the most repellent. Published in 1740, it’s the story of a 15-year-old servant girl who’s harried to the point of trauma by the deranged advances of her master, Lord B. It takes a particularly nauseating turn half way through as she begins to fall for him and eventually agrees to marry him, submitting obediently to his strict specifications on how to be a perfect wife.

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Platonov: Amour haine et angles mort

Playing at Théâtre Prospero. Produced by Le Groupe de la Veillée and LA FABRIK

What is it that Richard E. Grant says about Chekhov’s plays in Withnail and I? “Full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks going to Moscow”? Harsh but fair, given all those portraits of bored, self-pitying provincials insisting they’ll get down to important work tomorrow… tomorrow…. 

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Jonathan: A Seagull Parable

Richard Bach’s 1970 novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull has inspired and irritated generations in equal measure. A fable about a little seagull that could, it draws on Christian tropes and New Age bromides to put forward a not exactly groundbreaking concept — that even though we’re all mired in the muck and mediocrity of everyday life, we can, if we dare to reach for the sky, enrich ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually. 

Surreal SoReal Theatre and Geordie Theatre have got together to knock this unpromising material into some kind of theatrical shape. Under Jon Lachlan Stewart’s characteristically dynamic direction (see his recent deliriously fun show The King Stinks and his magnificent food-and-puppet show Macbeth Muet), they do a fine job of it in this bilingual production that’s cast with a mix of differently-abled actors.

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Efer by Parts+Labour_Danse

Maika Giasson & Brianna Lombardo in Efer. Photo by Bobby León

Choreographers Emily Gualtieri and David Albert-Toth, who together comprise the Montreal company Parts+Labour_Danse, made their Danse Danse debut this week with Efer, an absorbing and meditative piece performed by seven dancers. 

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Italian Mime Suicide

Photo credit: Najim Chaoui – Arach’Pictures

Sad clowns are a common motif, in real life as well as in kitsch art. Robin Williams’s tragic death revealed that beneath the madcap exuberance was a man wracked by depression. Perhaps the most famous example in British culture is the brilliantly curmudgeonly sitcom pioneer Tony Hancock, who in his increasingly obsessive search for the meaning and artistry of comedy, entered into a spiral of despondency and existential angst, finally taking his own life in 1968.

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