4.48 Psychosis – meet the playwright

Sarah Kane (February 3, 1971 – February 20, 1999) was a British playwright.
Her plays dealt uncompromisingly with themes of death, sex, violence and mental illness, and are characterised by an increasing poetic intensity, a rich affirmation of love in all its forms, and by use of sharply violent imagery so powerful that it cuts across and fragments the narrative, perhaps an attempt to give us the experience of a life torn up by its roots.

She struggled with intense manic depression for many years, but continued to work, and was for some time the writer-in-residence at the Royal Court theatre.

Her first play, Blasted, created the biggest theater scandal in London since the baby stoning scene in Edward Bond’s play Saved, an author Kane adored and who in turn publically defended Kane’s play and talent. Other dramatists who influenced Kane include Samuel Beckett, Howard Brenton, and Georg Büchner, whose play Woyzeck she once directed.

Whilst the Daily Mail described her first play as “this disgusting feast of filth”, she is now acknowledged as a major force in British theatre and one of the key-figures of the so-called In-yer-face theatre, whose promising career was brought to a premature end by her suicide in 1999. However, this change of critical opinion only occurred with her fourth play, Crave. Originally published under the pseudonym of Marie Kelvedon in order to allow critics to examine it not as a new play by the author who lets characters suck out other characters’ eyes or barbecue genitals but as a play in its own right, Crave concentrates on four characters, each only having a letter for a name, stuck in relationships to each other, the layers of which can only be seen after a thorough interpretation of the play. Also, it is highly intertextual. Via this “new” image of Sarah Kane, her earlier texts have been reread beyond the surface revealing complex characters whose bruises are on a psychological level much more so than on a physical one. Her last play, 4.48 Psychosis, was completed very shortly before she died and was performed a year after her death. In 2001, the Royal Court Theatre, which had staged premieres of all but one of her stage plays, produced a season of her work. The critics were unanimous in their acclaim for the woman they had once scorned as reminding them of ‘the naughtiest girl in the class’. Her influence on the next generation of writers remains to be seen, but it is already there in the plays of Debbie Tucker Green and in Caryl Churchill’s Far Away (2000).

Plays: Blasted – Phaedra’s Love – Cleansed – Crave – 4:48 Psychosis

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