12 December 2018

“The corridors of the College will forever echo with the anguished cries of these poor patients…”

The College was temporarily turned into a madhouse last night with the performance of ‘4.48 Psychosis’, where an invited audience were greeted with the words: “Welcome to Broadmoor,” as they arrived for a tour, and to meet the patients.

To say that this was like ‘an invitation to the blues’ would be an understatement, as the next 60 minutes would be amongst the most sad, disturbing, and most unsettling experiences I have had in a long time, not just as an audience member, but also as a theatre director myself, witnessing performances of great depth, poignancy and fury.

The patients, doctors, dancers and musicians were faultless, and the staging was remarkable. In May 2016 when Sarah Kane’s play opened at The Royal Opera House, the Guardian described it as ‘a play that roars with life as it gazes at death’, and roar it did, with a cacophony of screaming maniacal laughter and haunting music echoing the corridors with patients stumbling around like characters from a George A Romero zombie apocalypse. In my time as a theatre director I was often drawn to experimental works, and in particular the works of Steven Berkoff, whose plays ‘East, Greek and the Trial’ I directed during the 1980s; drawn to the lack of props and minimalist stage direction, giving plenty of room for innovative staging. Sian and Kirsty’s formalist production was a triumph.

The band’s rendition of Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World’, followed by the College’s Evolve Dance Company’s overture piece should have been a warning to the curious of what was to come,  but ‘this is a College drama performance’ I thought, unaware of the deeply disturbing visit we were about to make into this heart of darkness. The mise en scène was brilliantly conceived with a fabulous blend of both content and form, and the corridors of the College will forever echo with the anguished cries of these poor patients, wonderfully brought to life by a cast of students whose faces will haunt me for a long time to come. I had a fitful night’s sleep: one vivid image in particular being the patient singing and playing the piano;  her animated body language, plaintive voice and fearful glances towards the screams and madness surrounding her making proximity all the more unsettling.

This was indeed the theatre of cruelty, and Antoine Artaud is alive but (un)well in the halls and corridors of Birkenhead Sixth Form College.

Posted by The BSFC Blogger on 12 December 2018

Category: The Expert's Voice