4.48 Psychosis
by Sarah Kane
Theatre by the River - Winnipeg, MB
V.11 - Red River College Roblin Centre 
Directed by Kendra Jones, featuring Elizabeth Whitbread
"It is myself I have never met, whose face is pasted on the underside of my mind."
Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis is an explosive script from a writer struggling at the depths of depression to realize a play brimming with life.
"Uncompromising, bleakly prescient work" - Variety
In 2017, Theatre by the River celebrates a dozen years bringing professional, independent theatre to the stage. Past hits include:
Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes
Sea Wall
Edward II

Elizabeth Whitbread

Show Info:
60 Mins
Tickets: $12

Warnings:Coarse language, violent content, sexual content
Wed July 19 10:00 PM
Fri July 21 2:00 PM
Sat July 22 7:15 PM
Mon July 24 12:00 PM
Tue July 25 5:30 PM
Wed July 26 11:00 PM
Fri July 28 3:45 PM
Sat July 29 9:00 PM

4.48 Psychosis

Theatre by the River—Red River College

I had to do some digging before I tackled talking about 4.48 Psychosis. The playwright, Sarah Kane, wrote this play during an episode of severe depression. It was a state that had affected her all her life. The play was completed shortly before she tragically committed suicide.

Presented as stream of consciousness, the script requires the audience to really focus in order to follow the actor’s journey. Over the course of the hour, many topics are explored, some of which are connectedness, self-worth, self-affirmation and choice. The darkness and despair dug into the play comes from the character’s inability to reconcile the barrage of thoughts she cannot escape. Ultimately, she is inundated. She simply disappears.

Elizabeth Whitbread courageously tackles this material and succeeds in delivering a cohesive and sensitive performance. She is able to create, for the audience, some order in the chaos.

This play is exhausting to attend. But in the end, although we are profoundly saddened, we are fortunate to be able to walk away.

Michelle Cook

4.48 Psychosis

Theatre by the River—Red River College

Theatre by the River’s production of 4.48 Psychosis is a challenging experience. STAY AWAY if you are going through suicidal ideation. That’s what it’s about. But if you’re up for it, it’s well worth taking this play in.

The play takes us through various states and moods of the main character, including her arguments and conflicts with psychiatrists. Whitbread does a good job of shifting in and out of these various states.

A good deal of the main character’s monologue sounds like the associative babble of a mind unmoored (or, at least, of some of the non-rational parts of the mind). This effect is amplified by John Norman’s most interesting echoes and distortions of the player’s voice.


The dialogue is provided by the actor interacting with two psychiatrists (their recorded voices those of Daina Leitold and Derek Leenhouts). Both voice actors convey very well the hurtful self-importance and assurance which the main character finds, and finds so painful in, the profession. Their voices are wonderfully crisp, clear—and unliving, robotic. Whitbread, by contrast, gives us all the timbre of a messy, living voice passing through various states.


The play is irksome in some ways. There was too much association of depressed mood with “blackness” (although the line about black water is very good). Some of the voice recordings are repeated ad nauseum, and some of the “babble” sounds like someone wanting to sound “artistic.”—Which effects are probably intended. Being suicidal is an irksome experience, and can be accompanied by being unable to get recurrent thoughts out of one’s head. Also, continuity between mental illness and creativity or genius seems well-established in psychology—so it’s entirely realistic that the “babble” would run from the innocuous to the pseudo-artistic before it geysers upward into a brilliance and clarity reminiscent of the Greek poets.

Some of the great lines include:
There isn’t a drug on earth can make life meaningful.
How do I begin as I mean to go on?
Dancing on glass.
I’m angry because I understand.

Near the middle of the play is a lovely paean and lament for someone the main character can never be with—”I’m yearning for someone who doesn’t exist.” This passage alone is worth coming to this play to see and hear.

Daina Leitold’s antiseptic listing of all the drugs tried successively on the main character and their effects, followed by the fact of her overdose in the same manner, is grim but very funny. And Leitold’s breaking down into unprofessional anger is completely unexpected—and startlingly vivid. For a few minutes it seems as if this psychiatrist might be the friend, the one that the main character has been wishing for all along. When the psychiatrist says that the main character doesn’t need a friend—well, I won’t tell you what ensues.

The extremely simply set-pieces manage to express both the (inescapable) tight corners in life that can precede suicidal ideation—and the corners becoming a coffin.

Despite the uncongeniality of the subject, the audience seemed highly attentive for the full hour.

I came from Prophecy (venue 29), thinking it was unlikely I had any entrails left to spill at 4.48 Psychosis (venue 11). Mistake. I found the two plays strangely parallel experiences.

Except that the audience was so stunned at the conclusion of 4.48 that we sat there for at least a minute, and who knows how much longer we would have sat there had not the director softly started clapping.

For more of Theatre by the River’s players (Daina Leitold and Mel Marginet), come out to Time’s Fancy at venue 12.

Kevan Bowkett