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4.48 Psychosis review at the Lyric Hammersmith, London – ‘extraordinarily accomplished’

Following its unveiling at this address in 2016 [1], Philip Venables’ setting of Sarah Kane’s final play 4.48 Psychosis garnered major awards from UK Theatre and the Royal Philharmonic Society, as well as nominations from the South Bank Awards and the Oliviers. On its first revival the piece and its performance seem, if anything, even stronger than before.

Venables is the first composer to set Kane’s work to music and his ability to find the right notes to match a text many of his colleagues would have deemed impossibly daunting feels unerring.

Opera has always shown a capacity for encompassing emotional extremity. Mental illness is scarcely a new subject for the form, but never before has it been tackled with such insight and empathy as here. The bleakest despair, the numbness of self-hatred, even moments of the most painful humour, all find expression in Venables’ extraordinarily accomplished and imaginative writing.

Using a combination of speech and song, plus a highly idiosyncratic way of setting words projected on a screen as a no-holds-barred battle between two percussionists – members of the brilliant contemporary music ensemble Chroma, who deliver the score in virtuoso fashion under conductor Richard Baker – Venables follows in the tradition of great composers who discover a way of making a fine text even more eloquent than it already is.

Ted Huffman’s staging once again succeeds in visualising this intense process of internal psychological scrutiny, while an ensemble cast of six female singers play their individual parts with a sense of identification as harrowing as it is truthful.

Invidious though it is to pick out individuals in this instance, the roles allotted to soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand and to mezzo Lucy Schaufer could not have fallen into more gifted hands; but their four colleagues do Kane and Venables proud, too.

4.48 Psychosis review at Lyric Hammersmith – ‘startling and immensely moving’ [1]

Verdict
The return of Philip Venables’ opera derived from Sarah Kane’s play reaffirms its greatness.

Production Information

Production
4.48 Psychosis
Venue
Lyric Hammersmith
City
London
Starts
April 24, 2018
Ends
May 4, 2018
Press night
April 24, 2018
Librettist
Philip Venables after Sarah Kane
Composer
Philip Venables
Director
Ted Huffman
Conductor
Richard Baker
Set
Hannah Clark
Lighting
DM Wood
Technical
Ellie Williams (company stage manager)
Production manager
Jamie Maisey
Cast includes
Gweneth-Ann Rand, Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price, Rachael Lloyd, Lucy Schaufer
Producer
Royal Opera, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Lyric Hammersmith
Running time
1hr 30mins