Review – 4:48 Psychosis – Fourth Monkey Theatre Company at Theatro Technis

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A few weeks ago I received an email inviting me to review the new season being put on by Fourth Monkey Theater Company. The season looked pretty dark: the Bacchae, an adaptation of Lord of the Flies, and 4:48 Psychosis, which rang a bell but which I actually knew nothing about. Given the options, I thought this was the play to choose: for some reason, the little voice in my head said “modern British classic,” but I couldn’t get anything more out of my head other than the phrase “tragically short career.” I figured this probably wasn’t going to be a cheery play given the rest of the season, but that’s not why I go to shows: I like dark as well as light. Per the email on opening night, it looked like the play was just short of two hours running time, with a 7:45 start time: ideal for a person like me who still has to get in to the day job after a night on the town. Let the rest of the world worry about getting the new Ipad: I had theater on MY mind.

I’ll skip telling anything you could find out about this show on Wikipedia and say that, per my experience (and from how it was performed), it’s a play about being suicidally depressed, to the point of being institutionalized and medicated. The female lead talks about her feelings and interacts with other people at the hospital (mostly doctors) and describes how she is treated and what she thinks about. At the same time this is happening, we see other people speaking what often appears to be her inner monologue, and occasionally the words of other patients.

I found this play a gripping and realistic depiction of mental illness that for once broke the standard of crazy people being performed in a way that bears no resemblance to actual craziness. Witness the sister in Floyd Collins, who mentions that she was in an institution but then spends the play being dreamy and generally moon-calfy, with a secret smile and a swoop to her arms and a glance that goes to the distance. This is a typical theatrical version of crazy: cute, crazy, prone to running off with cute men without thinking about the consequences, possibly throwing themselves in a river while reciting nursery rhymes.

Crazy is not Giselle or Lucia di Lammermoor, girls in floating dresses dancing themselves to death. Crazy is a person who can talk to you completely normally because they are actually still very much a human being: the problem is their inner dialogue, which may or may not be shared. 4:48 Psychosis gives you those words spoken aloud: you can see that a person with mental illness is still completely logical, that the powerful human brain is still running the show. It just is coming to conclusions like questioning just why anyone would want to bother to be friends with you and “I hope to God death is the fucking end.” Oddly, the statement by itself seems so extreme, but in the context of the play you can see all of the reasoning that lead to it being a logical conclusion (or hope). Wonderfully, the lead actress in Fourth Monkey’s 4:48 was exactly the logical, thinking, engaged, sympathetic, real person she needed to be to be convincingly a person who actually really is not well at all.

In the play, we are shown a lot of the realities of modern institutionalization: not the horror show of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but the depressing truth of the witches brew of medicines people are given to try to make them “better,” along with the laundry list of effects each of these drugs have (so many of the people I know who have been medicated have kept list of their actual reactions to these drugs so that they can remember what does and doesn’t work and what side effects they had to endure); the narrator’s recollection of its affect on her weight and her sex drive was also very poignant and a sharp reminder of how the drugs still inhibit a person’s ability to lead a “normal” life. And the narrator also makes real her feeling of isolation and friendlessness and the frustrations of her relationships with her doctors – none of whom seem particularly interested in providing her with any kind of emotional anchors, none of whom ever seem to engage with her as a person rather than as a patient.

However, overlaying this script was the horrible directorial decision to put some 20 or more other women on stage at the same time, all in costumes that were differing cuts of green hospital gowns. Sometimes they were patients, sometimes they were doctors, sometimes they were the narrator’s thoughts, sometimes they did movement work, sometimes they all shouted together. Too, too frequently they were a distraction to the actual words of the show. Only once were they effective, when they surrounded the narrator and, as her thoughts, essential drowned/tore her apart: otherwise I found their clownish overacting killing my engagement in the show. I couldn’t help but think that the actresses were having a hard time splitting themselves off from their work in the other plays in rep. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand the noise levels anymore, and realized – despairingly – that per my estimate we still had 45 more minutes to go. (“20:46 boredom” was the comment in my notebook.) And suddenly – the stage cleared to one person and glitter fell from the ceiling, and then no one was there. And I realized it wasn’t the interval, the play was done, and we could go home. What a relief!

While at the end I felt highly impressed by Sarah Kane’s writing, I was really turned off by this performance. I hadn’t realized: it was a student show. I usually don’t go to them. In retrospect, I’m glad to have been exposed to the play, but this production was heavy handed enough to ruin the evening for me. Ah well. By 9 PM, I was down the street at a pub, and if nothing else I got a full hour discussion in about how this play could have been done more effectively.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012. It continues through Saturday, March 17th. Another review is here.)

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12 Responses to “Review – 4:48 Psychosis – Fourth Monkey Theatre Company at Theatro Technis”

  1. sixtiesremix Says:

    With all due respect your being a bit snobbish about the fact that it was a student show. ‘I usually don’t go to them’, not cool. Students are the future of the arts, and very capable of creating fantastic work just as professionals are capable of creating rubbish work, we’ve all seen it. When they graduate they don’t suddenly become worthy of your time, as if it’s some automatic change in them! I was there, and if you didn’t like the play I understand why, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but lay off the students!

    • webcowgirl Says:

      You’ll note I explicitly called out how good the play was. Unfortunately the acting wasn’t and the direction was actively bad.

      You can’t just please your audience by virtue of being new at what you’re doing, and if you’re performing publicly, you accept that people will publicly say if they disliked what they saw. Don’t insult the actresses further by saying they shouldn’t be judged.

      • Oliver Says:

        We note that you did call out how ‘good’ the play was…a play prior to viewing, you had no knowledge of (again by your own admission). Your review is ignorant of the piece and the history of it and clearly sourced only from wikipedia (where you refer the reader of your review to go-perhaps refer them to the play? The place you should have gone prior to viewing also). By all means dislike the interpretation you are viewing as a spectator, that is your prerogative…however you also have a responsibility if you are going to write about it; to know what you are writing about! You quite clearly do not in this instance. This does not only the production a disservice but also, by definition your own self. Lazy reviewing on a free ticket!

      • webcowgirl Says:

        I like to go to a play with no preconceptions whenever possible. I’m sorry it was a shit production; these things happen. But I didn’t hate the production because my mind had been turned by my prior expectations. It was just shit. And there was a “cost” to that ticket: my time. If only I could get it refunded.

  2. sixtiesremix Says:

    Eugh. Look sorry to say this but people in glass houses and all that…I’m a bit concerned, maybe you shouldn’t be reviewing theatre in the first place if you don’t know who Sarah Kane is?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      You’re right, I shall stop writing immediately.

      Why are you are still coming back to this review two months after I wrote it? It seems obsessive.

  3. S.A.M Says:

    What a massively ignorant review. Congratulations.. Really does prove my theory that critics are just people that want to do something high profile within the arts, have fallen short and so therefore become introverted self-righteous critics.

    Particularly liked the line ’20:46 boredom’ … 14:34 unfunny pun.

    Good try though for your first review.. but next time start by reviewing something like a pantomime, don’t just jump straight into the deep end.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      HI, Scott Mcgarrick, contactable at 0845 366 6523 or scott.mcgarrick@ntlworld.com . I see nobody else bothered to review this dog except for me and thus all of the people involved in (or friends with people involved in) the production are continuing to get upset by it. It was a jejeune piece of crap that didn’t deserve the time I gave it and I suppose that for such inexperienced people, being told you’ve actually failed can’t go down very well.

      You show your age by your comments – when you’ve been on the scene longer you’ll have a thicker skin and so will your friends. If you want to be taken seriously as an actor, you’d do well to learn to accept that criticism goes with the job. I give praise when it is earned and this show did NOT earn it. It being a bad show does not make me a bad writer.

      Regarding my writing: I do this for pleasure and to warn the paying public off of shows that are a waste of their precious time. But it’s ultimately just a hobby, much like acting will eventually be for 95% of the people who were in the cast of this show. I’ve never had any interest in the creative arts as I’m far more interested in being able to put food on the table than in having my ego fed.

  4. webcowgirl Says:

    Sixties remix: you’re still being obsessive. Is this review keeping you up at night? Why? It’s now three months later. I am worried for your mental health.

    • sixtiesremix Says:

      It takes 5 seconds out of my day to reply, so it’s not really a problem. I am involved in the creative arts though and with all due respect I don’t think you should be involved if your not even interested. Let’s just leave it there, I’m not one for cyber bullying.

  5. Review – Las Maravillas: the Lost Souls of Mictlan – The Dreamery at Rosemary Branch Theater | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Pringle’s “As Ye Sow”, but horrifying as in horrible, a la Fram or the monstrous 4:48 Psychosis Fourth Monkey put on some years […]

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