Suffering from suicidal depression, playwright Sarah Kane experienced her sharpest, most anguished clarity at 4.48am: hence her visceral final play, 4.48 Psychosis. In it, mental extremes are unflinchingly distilled. Wreathed in dark humour or bleak, lyrical beauty, words fragment and coalesce through angry pain and medicated stupor into skinless and terrible lucid freedom.
Where this first-ever operatic setting by Royal Opera House Guildhall composer-in-residence Philip Venables succeeds is through simple honesty. With a score ranging guilelessly from motoric arrhythmia to wispy renaissance, director Ted Huffman and team attempt neither dramatic adornment nor explanation but allow the text to breathe within a kaleidoscope of inner-outer conflict.
On a bare, white-walled stage, six well-matched female singers – led by an outstanding Gweneth-Ann Rand – shuffle greyly distressed. Around them, phrases appear and dissolve in projected sound and video while, above, a superb Chroma ensemble (sensitively conducted by Richard Baker) charts the disintegration of their hive mind. Duelling percussionists parley in a doctor-patient morse code. A tapestry of strings, accordion and saxes evoke polyphonies of yearning, while tenderly but inexorably we encounter hopeless recesses of the mind. Knowledge of Kane’s suicide shortly after writing the play can only make this humane and understated piece the more compelling.
26-28 May, Lyric Hammersmith
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