One thing I look forward to every year at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival is what play Theatre by the River will be staging. One reason for this is that over the years I’ve gotten to know several people associated with the company. This is always a draw for Fringe shows. Another reason for this is that I know there their shows will always be challenging. A final reason is that their productions are generally sparse, allowing for the playwright’s words to shine through.
Over the last few years I’ve scene and really enjoyed, Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes, Seawall, Lungs, and Autobahn. Each year the company seems to find new ways to challenge themselves and their audiences. This year’s show 4:48 Psychosis is no different.
From the Theatre by the River Website
CONTENT WARNING: This play’s content deals with suicidal ideation and other themes that some audiences may find triggering.
If you are struggling with thoughts of self harm, please reach out and ask for help.
The July 25th and 28th shows feature talk back sessions after the show. I took in today’s talk back session, and highly recommend that you attend one of those two sessions, even if you viewed the show on a different day.
4:48 Psychosis is a play by British playwright Sarah Kane. As the warning suggests it deals with questions of mental health, along with suicide. Kane dealt with depression for most of her life. There is a lot of second hand information out there about Kane, particularly in relationship to this play. I would suggest you see the play first and then dig into that material.
The play itself was written in a fragmented style, and with no stage direction leaving itself open to director and performer as to how it should be staged. Kendra Jones the director, and Elizabeth Whitbread the performer have done a terrific job in combining live action and recorded material together in this production. Like many of the Theatre by the River shows, there is a fair bit of humour to lighten what is a heavy topic.
The stage consists of a wooden V and some clothes on the floor along with a looper and microphone at a front corner of the stage. Both of these play critical parts in keeping the show moving forward and helping to define the character played by Whitbread.
This character has no name. Nor do any of the characters that she interacts with during the play. This demonstrates the ways in which mental health problems can destroy identity, but it all serves to remind the audience that no one is immune to mental health problems. .
Throughout the play we are invited to experience life along with this character. We encounter moments of hope, despair, anger, and helplessness. We see the character’s interior logic, and how it comes up against the logic of the system. We are also given the opportunity to see ourselves in the character. For hopefully we will realize that much of what the character deals with are intensified forms of our own emotions and thinking.
Our ability to do this lies in no small part to the strength of Whitbread’s performance. Especially because it is tic free. While there are repeated actions, there’s no one little contrivance designed to remind you that “Hey! I have a mental illness.” Whitbread also brings a strong physical presence to her role, that adds an everywoman, girl-next-door character to her performance. Reminding the audience that mental health issues are often not as close to the surface as we like to think, or portray.
At the same time, she is also able to portray how he illness is forcing her in on herself. Again, without resorting to obvious tricks, she is able to demonstrate the debilitating aspects of her illness.
I’ve mentioned before that as part of my training for the priesthood, I spent some time at Selkirk Mental Health Centre. One of the things that we were made aware of during our studies were the complexities and frustrations inherent within our mental health care system.
Without going into polemic or speeches, 4:48 Psychosis does a good job of highlighting some of these issues as well. There are many questions about hearing and listening that are raised by this production.
Like many of the shows that Theatre by the River stages, 4:48 Psychosis does not provide answers. Rather it will, if you’re paying attention not only to the show but to your own mind, raise questions that you will take with you as you leave the theatre. That’s one reason why the talk back sessions are so worthwhile.
I hope this show makes the best of Fringe list. The more performances that can be seen the better. This is must see theatre. This is a show that at it’s heart is what theatre and particularly the Fringe is all about. Pushing boundaries, stretching limits, and posing questions that need to leave the theatre and go out into our mains streets and public squares.