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The play with a sharp, dark edge

Updated: 2015-07-27 08:01:47

( China Daily )

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4:48 Psychosis is staged in Chinese in Shanghai. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The play 4:48 Psychosis has not so much lost the plot as not had one in the first place.

Indeed, the work of the late British playwright Sarah Kane has no specific setting or stage direction either.

The play performed in Chinese at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center consists of 24 episodes of subjective presentation of clinical depression.

Kane knew something of the subject. She suffered from chronic depression and did not live to see the play. She killed herself after writing it in 1999, before its debut in London 18 months later.

The Chinese production has been directed by New York-based American-Russian director Dmitry Troyanovsky, with stage and costume designed by Zane Pihlstrom.

Troyanovsky directed The King Stag by Carlo Gozzi at the Shanghai Theater Academy a few years ago. His theater-directing portfolio spans from a contemporary interpretation of Hamlet to the ancient Greek Antigone.

It is important to separate the play from the life of Kane, Troyanovsky says. He wanted to approach the play like a classical piece, concentrating on the presentation of the work rather than biographical background of Kane. He believed it was also the intention of the author to hide behind the script, so "let's do her a favor and leave her alone".

4:48 was the time Kane, in periods of depression, awoke. The fragmented episodes are contemplation and discussion of suicide, failure to communicate with others or relate to the outside world, the possible causes of depression, isolation and relationships.

Chinese audiences are likely to relate to the play, Troyanovsky says.

"They may find it relevant and meaningful, because after decades of rapid economic development and drastic social changes, it may be hard for an average person to make sense of what's happening, and he may have trouble finding a place in the disorienting world and suffer from psychosis."

Troyanovsky has chosen to use four actors from the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center in the performance, because of his interest in the double symmetrical structure and mirror imagism on the stage.

Troyanovsky does not understand Chinese. To compensate for any nuances lost in the translation of the script, he leans heavily on physical performance and other theater forms rather than dialogue.

Today's popular culture has become so visual that, when you emerge from the theater, it is more likely to be visual images and atmosphere that remain in your mind, rather than a specific line or a beautiful passage, he says.

His decision to translate Kane's poetic script by way of stage physicality was grounded in his belief that "the body onstage does not lie".

"Directing is a kind of poetry, too," he says.

Kane died at the age of 28 and left behind six plays about love, desire, pain and death. Aleks Sierz, a British theater critic, has categorized her work as part of what he defined as "in-yer-face theater".

The lead actress, Xu Manman, seemed bemused by journalists' questions as to how working on the play has affected her mental status.

"I have been a professional actor for 15 years. I have learned to separate work from real life. Otherwise, I would not have survived in my career. After all, we need to pay more attention to the beautiful things in life."

If you go

7:30 pm, Tuesday-Sunday, 2 pm, Sunday, through Aug 9. Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, 3F, 288 Anfu Road, Xuhui district, Shanghai. 021-6473-0123.

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