Theatre Review of Psychosis

Psychosis by Sarah Kane
TR Warszawa
23 March 2010 / 19:45
Barbican Theatre

4:48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane’s last play before her untimely suicide at 28 in 1999, has often been described as her suicide note in play form. To view the play as such, however, would be an injustice to the playwright and to a play that is so much more than just a full-stop, more than a posthumous suicide note in motion.
In the hands of the Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna and his company TR Warszawa, we find a profound, unrelenting exploration into the darkest depths of a human being ensnared by the clutches of depression.

Jarzyna’s interpretation of the play, that had no character names, stage directions, and little in the way of structure of narrative, presents a piece of pure raw emotion that is truly dark and uncompromising in its production about the turmoil of depression. Transcending the ‘in-yer-face theatre’ of the Nineties so often associated with Kane’s work, which emphasized stage images of explicit sex and violence and though this production has it’s fair share of both: the exposed, naked woman draped in blood, the all-too-real suicide attempt while a distorted love-song drones in the background, to name just two, these elements are never used excessively or for ostentatious shock value. It would be easy to allow these moments to detract our attention from the content, which is distressing in it‘s very nature, but this never happens. They are used purposely, and are disturbing not just because they shock, but because we, as an audience, feel them

The entire cast is excellent, but Magdalena Cielecka’s performance of the nameless Woman is truly outstanding. Cielecka gives a terrifying, and visceral portrayal and given that the Woman is never off stage, her energy never wanes through the 80 minute or so running time, and we are gripped in her struggle as she slips deeper into the clutches of her condition, disturbing and exhaustive as it is. From her screeching torment, to the fragile moments of hope, equally intense and disarming, we are invited into a personal hell and who we see on stage is not a broad symbol, or a generic representation of depression, but a human and highly personal display of a woman trapped in the system and in her mind, harrowing in its brutality.

Jarzyna’s production weaves elements of sound and lighting combining them to produce a truly distressing atmosphere creating a tension that ebbs and flows much like the unnamed female ‘protagonist’s’ throughout the play. The lighting is either stark, or clinical. The sterile surroundings of pale green tiles and the water basins of a nameless ward are minimal, sparse, and dim, emphasizing the shadows, heightening the sense of isolation. In one particularly effective scene, the set is completely dark, except for the faintly illuminated body of the Woman, her face obscured in the shadows, revealing only glimpses of the graphic depiction of her self-harm. The use of sound and music throughout brings the dark aura inherent in the script vividly into the setting: a constant ambience in the background, rhythmic, pulsating, and broken only occasionally by a haunting and emotionlessly uttered number, a constant reminder that this suffering woman is trapped in a mechanical system that has ‘chemical cures for congenital anguish’.

I highly recommend this production, and if ever given a chance to see it, prepare for a piece of theatre that is unique and emotive, unforgettable as it explores the darkest pits of the human condition.