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4.48 Psychosis The Opera. Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

May 9, 2018

(seen at the Evening performance on 2nd May 2018).

I don’t “do” opera. As regularly blogged on here, I find it almost impossible to understand, alas. On the other hand, I remain a huge fan of Sarah Kane. Unlike many, I can back up my assertion that I saw the original Royal Court Theatre Upstairs “Blasted” with an actual ticket stub… trust me, it’s a “Kray Brothers at the Blind Beggar Pub” situation – the place would have to have been the Tardis to accommodate all who claimed to have been there. A form of psychosis…

… see what I did there. Philip Venables is even smarter, integrating a modern opera score with this amazing swansong play.

For those familiar with the original text, it is Kane’s most personal, but also possibly least immediately accessible. It is the interaction of a woman in immense mental anguish with those who would wish to help her – but more importantly, with herself.

As a play, it has jumping rhythms, scene to scene as depression ebbs and flows. Add music, and suddenly a whole new perspective is added to the actions.

Most effective are the Pierre Martin video scenes, throwing conversation projections onto a wall as Lucy (Lucy Schaufer) attempts to analyse a distressed Gwen (Gweneth-Ann Rand. Beats, even sawing, accompany the exchanges, and are the most enthralling part of the performance.

Around them, four other performers Jen (Lucy Hall), Suzy (Susanna Hurrell), Emily (Rachael Lloyd) and Clare (Samantha Price) are friends and supporters, medical staff and sometimes interpretative chorus, amplifying feelings with repetitive noises.

Hard to make out the words – surtitles helped considerably at times – but the voices were pure, contrasting with the horrors being expressed in often the strongest language and physicality.

Director Ted Huffman and movement directors Sarah Fahie and RC-Annie split movement between the realities of restraint on a psychiatric ward, smoothness of soothing and erratic of the disturbed soul. Sometimes focussed, sometimes distracting – the set is simple, to clear it seems redundant at points (and removing shoes at the end, the symbolism escapes me) – but almost always matching the kinetic themes of music and text.

For only the second modern opera I’ve ever seen (the first was “Zoe” – go Google) I doubt I could have chosen much better. I’m still unsure of it as an art form, perhaps unwilling to risk classical opera still, but I will concede that emotions are heightened in a quite different way to a musical, even “pop opera” type, and that is fascinating.

Sarah Kane always promised a very different experience with each play she wrote, and this is certainly a different twist on even that aim.


3 stars.

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