Ulrich Rasche’s production of 4.48 Psychosis is everything you would expect it to be – more or less. A chorus marches to the beat as they painfully spit out syllable after syllable of Sarah Kane’s haunting, plotless text in rhythmic verse. Rasche is famous for his machine theatre, staged on giant hydraulic discs or conveyer belts that reportedly cost six-figure sums. The news that Rasche had apparently ditched the machines for his latest and first production for the Deutsches Theater was a surprise. In reality, he’s just downsized. The treadmill contraption on stage is a shadow of his former mechanic monsters and feels underwhelming, lacking the sheer impact of previous productions. He’s gotten rid of his directorial trademark without changing the dramatic formula. Rasche’s 4.48 Psychosis does manage to channel the eeriness of what was essentially Kane’s suicide note, both through gloomy lighting and a stellar atonal score by Nico van Wersch. Kane killed herself just days after handing the manuscript to her publisher. The production succeeds in oscillating between the fury and fragility of her text, crescendoing at the right moments. However, scenes in which an all-male chorus chant and grunt in unison feel like an inappropriate representation of Kane’s vulnerability. There is a dimension to Kane’s experience of patriarchy-inflicted suffering, her anorexia, genital-hating and depressed libido, that is not aesthetically captured by shouting men. Overall, the evening is simply too long: Rasche turns Kane’s 35-page cry for help into an at times excruciating three-hour endurance test (no break). All we’re left with is agony on a treadmill. But the question remains: why?
4.48 Psychosis | Directed by Ulrich Rasche. Deutsches Theater, Mitte. Feb 12, 13, 28, 29, with English surtitles.