‘Sarah Kane slips easily into the mythic mould. She burst quickly on to the theatre scene: Blasted, in 1995, was an instant scandal. And, after writing four more plays – Phaedra’s Love, Cleansed, Crave and 4.48 Psychosis – over the next four years, she took her own life after a struggle with mental illness. Like the great Romantic poets, Kane was drawn to death. Like the 20th century’s icons – like Marilyn, like Jimmy – she died young. What greater end to the life of a young genius than suicide?
‘I suppose when a young artist commits suicide, leaving a relatively small body of work, it’s natural to want more. We know there are no more Sarah Kane plays to come, so people want more of her. We want to build up the myth. Her death leaves a vacuum that we want to fill. It’s an understandable instinct, but not a good one.
‘Kane’s plays have almost certainly achieved canonical status. All over the world, they are seen and admired. Almost since the arrival of Blasted, she has been regarded as the most important of the new British dramatists. No doubt some of the initial interest in her work was a wish to jump on the bandwagon of sensation that Blasted caused on its UK premiere, but with the passing of time Kane’s work has proved its significance.
‘There’s a danger that we see all of Kane’s work as one long preparation for suicide. We shouldn’t. Only the last play, 4.48 Psychosis, is a play written during her periods of depression and hospitalisation – and even there, the ending is ambiguous. There’s a glimmer of light – but in life or in death? Rather, I think we should look at the plays as the work of a writer of great anger, of sardonic humour, who saw the cruelties of the world but also the human capacity for love.’ — Mark Ravenhill, The Guardian
4:48 Psychosis: Media
Trailer: UK/Royal Opera production
Excerpt: Russian production
Hong Kong production
Trailer: Finnish production
Trailer: German production
Excerpt: Italian production
A Sarah Kane site by Iain Fisher
Sarah Kane Discussion Forum
Sarah Kane Biography
Sarah Kane interviewed
‘4:48 Psychosis’ Facebook Page
Buy Sarah Kane’ The Complete Plays’
Sarah Kane @ In-Yer-Face Theater
‘Sarah Kane is my Kurt Cobain’
Sarah Kane’s obituary @ The Observer
‘Much has been written about the troubles of Sarah Kane, starting with the controversy following her first play, Blasted and then continuing long after her sudden suicide at age twenty-eight. For many she has become the classic tortured artist – perhaps to a fault. In his introduction to Sarah Kane: Complete Plays, her friend and colleague David Greig encourages us to focus on the literary qualities of Kane’s work rather than on the “mythology of the author” which he terms “a pointlessly forensic act”. This may be difficult with regard to Kane’s final play, 4:48 Psychosis, an abstract work that presents the mindscape of an individual contemplating suicide and was written just prior to Kane’s own. But to what extent the two events are coincidental or a true example of life imitating art is largely a matter of conjecture.
‘One thing is for certain, life under the conditions of 4:48 Psychosis would be an almost non-stop chorus of pain. The play was written during a period of deep depression in Kane’s life, an achievement Greig calls “positively heroic…an act of generosity” but he cautions against looking for clues to someone’s personal history based on the drifting and artificial evidence of a play. The very word play implies something in motion or imagined, like games and pretending. Other authors such as Ken Urban, have pointed out the difficulty, if not impossibility, of separating Kane’s personal life from the themes explored in 4:48 and that in this final play the author and the work are structurally intertwined. Reflecting on comments made by Kane’s literary agent, Mel Kenyon, Urban writes, “Because it is the play that, Kane joked, ‘killed’ her to write, at this particular historical moment, it is hard to read the play outside of biography. Mel Kenyon recently said in an interview, ‘I pretend that [4:48 Psychosis] isn’t a suicide note but it is. It is both a suicide note and something greater than that.’”’ — Mustafa Sakarya, ‘A Controlled Detonation‘
by Aleks Sierz
When Sarah Kane was still alive, it was vital to support her work — her style was so raw, so provocative and so innovative that many critics simply didn’t get it. Some even called for it to be censored. So it was important to support her, almost without question. But, when the 28-year-old playwright committed suicide on 20 February 1999, everything changed. Now, suddenly everyone loved her. Now, she was an icon. Now, she was a secular saint. Critics fell over each other to recant — it was like an episode from some religious war.
Wars breed anecdotes. And it soon emerged that everyone has a Sarah Kane anecdote. So here’s mine. It’s about the interview I did with her for the chapter on her work for my first book, In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, and it may, or may not, be the last interview she ever gave. In my 1998 diary, there’s an entry for 14 September: Kane, 12 noon, SW9 (the name of a cafe in Brixton, south London, where we both lived at the time). The diary also shows that, in the previous week, I’d seen the Paines Plough production of Kane’s Crave (8 September), and soon afterwards I saw Mark Ravenhill’s Handbag (18 September). Oh heady days.
We met at SW9 because Kane lived just around the corner in a flat which she shared with her friend David Gibson at 6A Bellefields Road. I arrived early, and remember standing apprehensively at the bar — I was a bit tense, a bit nervous. After all, I was a fortysomething journalist and couldn’t help thinking that the character of Ian, also a fortysomething journalist, in her debut Blasted expressed her hatred of all middle-aged men. In fact, when I’d spoken to her on the phone to arrange the meeting, she laughed: “I seem to be meeting a lot of middle-aged men recently.”
I was worried that she’d be as aggressive as her work suggested. I suppose this is an example of the biographical fallacy in reverse. In fact, when she arrived, right on time, she was smiling. Wearing a black leather jacket, and hip black clothes, she could barely disguise her sleepy eyes, and the fact that she’d just got out of bed. “Oh, it’s early for me,” she said. “I’ve been up all night writing.” It was the way she liked to work.
We drank coffee at a corner table by the window. The moment she sat down, she got out her cigarettes. She offered me one. No thanks, I said, I’m too afraid of cancer. “You’ve got more chance of dying from a heart attack from worrying about it,” she joked, lighting up. When Kane smoked, she held her cigarette behind her back so that the smoke wouldn’t blow into my eyes. This considerate behaviour reminded me that although her plays have lashings of violence, they are also full of gentleness. After all, her main theme is love.
During the interview, to explain the difference between plot and story visually, Sarah grabbed my questions from me and drew a diagram on the back.
Then Kane gave me back a copy of an academic article I’d written about Blasted and the politics of the new censorship, where the media leads the call for banning plays rather than, as in the past, the state (whose censorship of theatre ended decades ago in 1968). In her delicate handwriting, she’d made a couple of corrections: where I had written, “Kane deliberately sets out to create a godless universe”, she wrote: “I don’t know. God does make an appearance [in Blasted]. And there is life after death.”
Kane talked some more about her first play, pointing out that the final scene takes place in a metaphorical “hell”. “Don’t forget the stage direction that says ‘He dies with relief’,” she said. “Ian dies, so you think that’s the worst thing that can happen — then it rains on him.” It’s a moment that sums her sense of humour, bleak perhaps, but humorous definitely. And she enjoyed the fact that directions like this present a real challenge to directors of her work.
Showing me a passage where I had misquoted her, Kane corrected my garbled version by stating succinctly: “Theatre will always be a minority interest, but the lack of a mass audience is compensated for by the lack of direct censorship.” At various points during our meeting, which lasted about two hours, she would consult a small notebook, pointing out which journalists had misquoted her.
It was clear that Kane thought of her character Ian with a mixture of horror and affection. When I said that, as a middle-aged man, I recognised his psychology, and the way he tried to manipulate Cate, she was pleased. “Yes,” she said, “when I was at Birmingham, there was a middle-aged man on the MA and he defended my portrayal of Ian when the other students attacked it. And I thought that was brave of him.”
Of course, Kane understood that you can feel a sexual or a violent desire without necessarily acting on it. “It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s quite another to act on it. We all have some control over our actions.” But what about Cate? Well, she stressed the fact that Cate is not retarded, and — much as she loved this character — she was also a bit exasperated with her: “I mean, what’s she doing in that hotel room with Ian?” Still, Cate’s resilience was as important to Kane as her naivety.
When I asked Kane what she thought of the label “in-yer-face theatre”, she shrugged as if to say: “That’s your problem, mate, not mine.” Then she said: “At least it’s fucking better than New Brutalism.” No writer likes to be labelled as part of a movement, and Kane was especially sensitive to being categorised as anything other than a “writer”.
We talked about the performance of Blasted that I’d seen at the Royal Court. It was the second press night, and she asked me how many people had walked out. I told her that only a couple had left, but that many people had giggled nervously during the evening. She was pleased that the play had had a powerful effect, and told me that she had seen most performances.
Why did the critics hate the play so much? Kane explained their reaction by pointing out that “a play about a middle-aged male journalist who rapes a young woman and is raped and mutilated himself can’t have endeared me to a theatre full of middle-aged male critics”. She also felt that she’d had a hard time from critics because she was a woman. I disagreed. I think that because Blasted is such a powerfully written piece, experimental in structure and provocative in its portrayal of a contemporary English civil war, it made audiences uncomfortable, made them feel they were experiencing the emotions shown on stage. And that discomfort and disorientation confused the critics (poor souls) — so they took the easy way out, which was to attack her.
Kane felt that the emotional content of her work had been misunderstood. “Blasted is a hopeful play,” she said. She didn’t recognise herself in negative descriptions of her work. “I don’t find my plays depressing or lacking in hope,” she said. “But I’m someone whose favourite band is Joy Division because I find their songs uplifting. To create something beautiful about despair is for me the most life-affirming thing a person can do.”
Despite the fact that love was so important to her, Kane was also constantly aware of violence. She told me two anecdotes about life in Brixton. In the first, she’d been shopping in Iceland supermarket, and bumped into a black woman, who went mad and abused her: “She called me ‘a white bitch’. You know, black people can be as racist as whites.” And the other story was from when she once lived in Josephine Avenue, and was about a gay man who been attacked and arrived on her front doorstep gasping, with his head streaming blood.
I asked her again about 4:48 Psychosis and the form she was striving to create. She grabbed a piece of file paper from my desk and drew another diagram.
Kane also told me a story from when she was at Bristol university. Planning to study playwriting at Birmingham, she was compelled to pay a small sum for private health insurance. She wrote on the back of the cheque something along the lines of finding it fucking outrageous that to enter an educational institution she should be required to pay for private health insurance, to which she was deeply opposed. I mention this because I now think that the most important thing about her life was not her suicide, but the fact that she got a First Class Honours degree and an MA in drama — she was an intellectual. She loved plays. She loved theatre.
Kane hated giving interviews. At the end of our meeting, she told me she didn’t want to do any more. “I’m a writer,” she said. “I’d much prefer if you could send me letters, and I’ll write my replies to your questions.” In the next couple of months, she sent me a couple of letters about her plays, then silence. I carried on writing my book and, just as I was finishing the first draft of my chapter about her, I heard she’d killed herself. For a while I was shocked and couldn’t write any more about her, and even wondered whether to put her chapter in the past tense. In the end, I left it in the present.
Looking back, our meeting seems to be a characteristic mix of helpful kindness and full-on violent imagination that, in my mind, is the essence of Kane. Yet what haunted me afterwards was the frankness and openness of her personality. “Go on,” she said, “ask me anything.” At the time, I didn’t ask half the questions I wanted to. I thought we’d have plenty of time to talk about her work — I was wrong. I didn’t realise she was already planning her suicide. In June 2000, I talked to Robert Gore-Langton, a Daily Express journalist who’d interviewed her father about her suicide. He told me that he’d expected him to be defensive, but that in fact he was totally open. “Go on,” he’d said, “ask me anything.”
Like most people, Kane was a complex and occasionally contradictory human being: equally capable of being polite and aggressive, of being an introverted garret writer and an extrovert fun-loving woman, of loving moody, doomy music and supporting Man United, a colourful club, a winner’s club, of talking about “sucking gash” and of longing for love and tenderness, by turns honest, perceptive, provocative, sentimental and, yes, quite in-yer-face. Sometimes.
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hi, J. I’m happy Burstyn also works heavily for you. Thank you again and so much about ‘Closer’. Um, no, I don’t really think about what my work is doing out there in reality or whatever. It’s too mysterious to imagine. Something I love about books is that they seem to have an even more secretive life than other forms, I don’t know why. I guess because books, fiction and poetry in particular, are an entirely one-on-one experience, absolutely private, and even when people try to characterise the experience they had with a novel, say, for others, it’s always just a skim and soundbite of what happened. So what one hears about what one’s books do in the world can only be a tiny fraction of what they actually do. Or something. I always think of my work having a future, post-me, post-me being alive. I’ve always thought about that and somehow written with that unknowable future in mind, I guess because 90% of the books I loved when I was staring out where by long dead writers. The Qanon thing means nothing to me. There’s been this hatred or fear or whatever of my books from certain quarters from the beginning, and I don’t feel like I’ve ever learned anything from the reaction. Yeah, I think you are very fortunate when it comes to your leader, that seems really true. Really, what an intense and profound experience to have gone through, this virus spread. There’s so much there to think about and feel about that I, at least, can’t even begin to recognise and process, but the future will sort that out. Enjoy everything you can, and I’ll keep getting through the days as productively as possible and counting the hours until a fuller life of some new form starts. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Unfortunately in the time you made that link to ‘Providence’ and now, the video got taken down, grr. Wish I could have shared. ‘Providence; is easily in my top 10 all-time favorite films, as I think you know, and it probably in the top 5. ** _Black_Acrylic, Cool beans! (What a weird saying). ** Steve Erickson, I kind of don’t have much doubt that the new Apple is very good, but, yeah, the Bernie Bro-style fandom that it’s getting right out of the gate is making me put my personal experience with it out there on the horizon. I’ll go find Herz’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, thank you for the tip. ** Dominik, Hi!!! He knows his way around cold noodles, that’s for sure. Oh, it’s so easy to confuse the producer thing, especially with my lazy descriptions. Thank you for the fingers crossing. It would be really good if we get that grant, for sure, but not a big tragedy if we don’t. The gallery show thing would be for a future, real world actual exhibition once life re-begins enough to allow that. Ha ha, yeah, I don’t know why that Blink 182 song popped into my head. I do really like it. Yesterday I … hm, Zac suddenly decided he couldn’t take empty Paris anymore, so he managed to find a flight to Nice where he’ll hold up with his mom until the quarantine ends, so we checked in re: that. Worked on some GIF things, which didn’t go well, but oh well. I started answering an emailed interview. I went down another youtube wormhole re: another favorite band of the past (70s), in this case Family, featuring the very particular, love-it-or-hate-it — I love it — braying goat-like vocals of the great Roger Chapman. For example. And, uh, not much else, sadly. Today, yours? Trade you for mine. Love with a sexy lazy eye, Dennis. ** Misanthrope, Duh’s the word. I keep up too, I just don’t believe anything I hear until it’s had time to prove itself correct. The news is too hysterically framed right now to be trusted, by me at least. Yeah, weird, the concentration. I think I underestimated how strolls around town and interacting with other humans is key to a brain’s brightness. ** Kyler, Ah, here you are on a day when I launch a new post about your friend Sarah Kane. Burstyn’s really great, yeah, pretty much in everything I’ve seen, not only the many great films she’s been a part of. She even makes her portions of films by directors I cannot stand like Aronofsky and Nolan worth waiting for. Glad your mood is up. I guess mine is fairly up, at least compared to a lot of people I know. I have a number of friend asking me how I can be so cheerful, so I guess so. ** Dom Lyne, Hi, Dom! Good to see you, pal. Oh, I think I’m holding up fairly well, all things considered. A bit grumpier and more bored than I normally am. The quiet is insane, right? I’m kind of really into it, but knowing it’ll end helps. Oh, man, that’s intense, and I’m so sorry about the episode you sent through. Especially in this situation. But I’m obviously happy to hear that you’re virtually righted now. Oh, wow! You made a GIF poem! High five. I’ve only just scrolled through it rapidly right now when I’m in need of finishing this, but it looks great! And I’ll pore through it very soon. Everyone, The writer, artist, musician and many things Dom Lyne made a GIF poem! A person after my own heart, obviously. Go luxuriate in its fun and much more by merely clicking this. Excellent, man! Well, you are being very productive, and I have to tell you I’m feeling some serious envy over here ‘cos I’m overly vagued out these days. Great news all the way around! Like I said, I’m trying to work, and getting a bit done. Re: the film, the lockdown has just slowed down the fund raising process a little, more than a little, which is annoying because I’m impatient to have the money in hand to make it, but things are still on course. Thanks for asking. Have the best day humanly possible! Love and holographic hugs, me. ** Okay. I did a post on my old, dead blog about Sarah Kane’s play, but when I went back to restore it, I thought it was weak, so I made a whole new one. That’s it. Fend as you will. See you tomorrow.