Theatre by the River‘s 4.48 Psychosis feels like a 60-minute suicide note. It should, given that it was the final work that British playwright Sarah Kane wrote before she took her own life. As such, it’s not for the faint of heart: the Toronto Fringe Festival production explores the tormented thoughts looming in the mind of a severely depressed woman. It drowns you in the twisted, isolated, and bittersweet mindset that comes with major depression. There are funny and charming moments to this poetry of self-disgust, but somehow this portrayal of deep emotional turmoil ultimately left me numb.
Giving a voice to feelings of guilt and unwantedness can be helpful to those who believe they are alone in those feelings, or for friends and family of someone suffering with major depression who don’t understand how improbable it can be to “just snap out of” an entire mindset. Depression can be insidious, a seemingly rational argument for why sanity won’t work. That is the strength of this play, in keeping that voice alive even long after its author has left this world.
What frustrated me about this play was that instead of fighting for my empathy by rousing my emotions, the narrator seemed determined to build walls with her demands. I typically cry at the slightest quiver of an actor’s lips, but this play left me feeling detached. The narrator kept pleading for the audience to “Validate me! See me! Love me!” and then exhausted us with reasons why we should not.
Part of me appreciates this as one of the complex reasons why depression is so difficult to overcome, because exposing our sense of inferiority inherently asks others to put us beneath them. But the anger that comes with depression can just as easily be used to connect with people through humor and recognition of mutual suffering. In this production, the audio effects and restless choreography further seemed to distract from the meaning and weight of the narrator’s words, making it difficult for me to meet her on her level.
Performer Elizabeth Whitbread did her best with the material, depicting the nuances of self-anger and futility, balancing hopelessness with a persistent search for help. These emotions could have stood out more if she had the opportunity to express other emotions in her palette that would emphasize the darkness of the blues.
I wish, in the same way that I wish for those who live with thoughts like these every day, that this play could help show us all how to move beyond anger and focus outside of ourselves so that we can build those connections — with audiences, with friends, with ourselves — that make all the difference.
- 4.48 Psychosis plays at The Theatre Centre’s BMO Incubator. (1115 Queen St. W.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Unsuitable for Minors, Sexual Content, Realistic Violence or Gore, Mature Language.
- This venue is accessible.
- Thursday July 6th, 07:45 pm
- Friday July 7th, 04:45 pm
- Sunday July 9th, 06:15 pm
- Monday July 10th, 11:00 pm
- Tuesday July 11th, 03:15 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 01:15 pm
- Friday July 14th, 05:15 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 02:45 pm
Photo of Elizabeth Whitbread provided by company