"Polish company scorches the Barbican"
by Coco Hall for remotegoat on 25/03/10

The sense of anticipation is palpable. We know we're in for an unsettling, relentless evening.

4.48 Psychosis is Sarah Kane's last play, and has been interpreted as a scorching, elegiac suicide note from a mind that knew true darkness and yet light too. From a body of work that only comprised of five plays, one short film, and a couple of newspaper articles, Kane's innovative theatrical experimentation has become part of the canon.

Her fellow writer Mark Ravenhill described her as a 'contemporary writer with a classical sensibility who created a theatre of great moments of beauty and cruelty, a theatre to which it was only possible to respond with a sense of awe.' Indeed, a sense of awe is what you come away from this TR Warszawa production of the play at the Barbican.

4.48 Psychosis dispenses with plot and character, there are no stage directions or character names to indicate who is speaking, yet from this collection of prose snippets, Grzegorz Jarzyna has created the finely crafted story of a mind crumbling.

Performed in Polish with bright green LED surtitles (somehow seeing the words seems to add to the stark, pared down quality of Kane's writing), the play goes from moment to moment of searing brilliance. The shiny, clinical set by Małgorzata Szczęśniak suggests chambers of memory, it effortlessly transforms from a flat to a hospital, the lighting design by Felice Ross singles out the main character and pins her in its spotlight, and the audience's gaze. There is an amazing scene where numbers that represent treatments for the patient's depression are projected, that overwhelm her in a terrifying Matrix-like dissolve.

Magdalena Cieleka plays the main character/author in this disturbed mindscape, confronting the ruptures in her psyche directly as an older woman and little girl appear on stage, swallowing pills, arguing with doctors, her lover and a friend, cutting her wrists and throwing herself against the wall. It is disturbing, yet impossible not to watch, even more so as she screams directly at the audience, semi-naked, exposing herself and our voyeurism.

Strangely though - it's not all darkness, there are a few moments of humour, which illuminate briefly like the surtitles above. The main character tells us of how she dreamt that a doctor gave her eight minutes to live when she'd been waiting to see him for half an hour; and it's a welcome moment of light in the dark.

The last line is repeated over and over, "Watch me vanish" as Cieleka vanishes into the darkness, but the haunting images of the play linger long after. People were crying as they left the building, if that's not the true power of theatre I don't know what is.

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