Kane’s play probes suicidal mind-set
Nov. 3, 2004 9:00 p.m.
When Sarah Kane committed suicide in 1999, she was considered to
be the “most prominent young playwright in Britain,”
according to famed Royal Court director James McDonald.
With the success of her rampantly controversial first play,
“Blasted,” Kane was well on her way to making stage
history as both a writer and a director before her tragic death
only two weeks after finishing her last, darkest and most poignant
play, “4.48 Psychosis.”
The show, which analyzes a state of mind before suicide, is
based on an early morning moment that the playwright noted as being
her most clear. Although the play seems to be autobiographical,
McDonald, the play’s director, feels that understanding it as
such would simplify the much more complex meaning.
“People wanted to read it as a suicide note,” said
McDonald. “It doesn’t quite work as a biography because
it’s more about the philosophical and emotional business of
being in a state of suicidal depression.”
Although McDonald understands the separation of creator and
artwork, Kane’s suicide still had a tremendous affect on
those who worked on it.
“The process of rehearing was partially to
understand,” said McDonald.
After working previously with the writer, McDonald found it
impossible to even read “4.48 Psychosis” until years
after her death.
The show will feature only three actors who relate to the core
message of the story, which is finding a reason to continue living.
As a playwright, Kane was much more concerned with portraying a
certain feeling of her work than emphasizing clarity.
“She wanted you to feel what that experience (suicidal
depression) is like,” said McDonald.
Kane has been criticized as being intentionally obscure with her
work, but her fans and supporters feel her plays are more about
emotional depth than intellectual understanding.
“”˜Blasted’ was misunderstood as an attempt to
shock,” MacDonald said.
In life, Kane was extremely accomplished as a writer and
director of her own work.
“She was very easy to work with,” McDonald said,
“very funny and very precise about her own work, which is
something that I appreciate.”
Her first play, also produced at the Royal Court in London, drew
McDonald to her work for her daring ability to take on
“She was talking about something that no one else was
talking about,” McDonald said.
“Blasted,” which centered around political violence
in Yugoslavia at the time, addressed controversial international
conflicts and threw them into an exposing light.
“It was written out of rage at how much people were
ignoring the situation,” said McDonald. “The show was
about the link between personal abuse, violence and war.”
“4.48 Psychosis” takes on much more personal turmoil
and has more aspects of a conventional play than her more abstract
While “Blasted” used many innovative stage and set
techniques, “4.48 Psychosis” is more conventional, and
focuses more on its psychological tone than its presentation.
“The play is expressionistic in its technique,” said
Although the new play isn’t autobiographical, it’s
an honest representation of a psychological experience that Kane
struggled with in her own life and early death.