English play tackles depression head-on

In her short life, Sarah Kane wrote five plays and the screenplay for a short film before she committed suicide at the age of 28 in 1999. An international group of Stockholm thespians will stage her last play, 4:48 Psychosis, in English, for nine performances over the next two weeks, writes Vivian Tse.

English play tackles depression head-on

Kane was highly esteemed as a young dramatist by the likes of Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill. Since her death her plays have been translated and staged around the world.

Her works have never played to large audiences in the UK and were at first dismissed by many newspaper critics. However, since her death, her plays have found a wide audience in Europe and South America. At one point in Germany, there were 17 simultaneous productions of her works.

In 2005, theatre director Dominic Dromgoole wrote that she was “without doubt the most performed new writer on the international circuit”.

Performers are captivated by the challenging themes and rich language used in her works, says actress Kristina Leon, who will perform in 4:48 at Teaterverket near Stockholm’s Odenplan starting on Thursday evening.

“The play deals with themes like depression, suicide and mental illness and we feel that these three themes combined are particularly interesting as there is a lot to explore and many questions arise,” Leon says in a statement. “These questions turn into a paranoid game and through the search for answers, you get lost in what is real and what is not.”

Kane’s works are characterised by a poetic intensity, pared-down language, exploration of theatrical form and, in her earlier works, the use of extreme and violent stage action.

Her first major work was a screenplay for an 11-minute short film first screened in 1995 called Skin depicting a violent relationship between a black woman and a racist skinhead.

According to her fellow playwright and friend David Greig, the title for 4:48 derives from the time a depressed Kane would frequently wake in the morning. The play deals with severe clinical depression, a disorder which afflicted Kane.

The play was first staged in 2000, nearly one and a half years after her death. The work is Kane’s most experimental, with no explicit characters or stage directions.

Actress Leon first learned about 4:48 while living in London in 2002. Since her first encounter, she has sought opportunities to stage the play, culminating in the current Stockholm performances.

“I think because of the unique and poetic language used, it would be very well suited to a native English-speaking audience, as hopefully they will find the language and content as rich as we do,” she says.

For the Stockholm production, Leon is working with Italian director Samuele Caldognetto and Swedish actress Ingela Lundh.

“We would like, among other things, to show that the human being in Kane’s play is overwhelmingly human and not a lunatic frothing around the mouth who doesn’t know what she is talking about,” she says. “A person with fundamental needs, who longs to be loved, noticed, understood, to escape the nightmare that is depression and to, in her own words, ‘be free.'”

Leon added that many commit suicide as a way out when life feels too difficult. According to Leon, in 2007, 303 people committed suicide in Stockholm alone and 1,443 in Sweden.

Knowing that Kane took her own life and weaving in their own personal experiences with people who have committed suicide, the subject matter is, to say the least, highly pressing and immensely relevant, says Leon.

4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane will be performed in English at Stockholm’s Teaterverket, Västmannagatan 54, near Odenplan T-bana station, from Thursday, September 16th to Saturday, September 18th and Wednesday, September 22nd to Saturday, September 25th at 7pm and Sunday, September 19th and Sunday, September 26th at 4:30pm. Tickets cost 100 kronor. Email [email protected] or call 0708 521 256 for further information on the show.

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Suicides increasing amongst Swedish youth

Over 1,500 people took their own lives in Sweden in 2017, 149 of whom were between the ages of 15 and 24.

Suicides increasing amongst Swedish youth
File photo: Isabell Höjman/TT
Each year, researchers at the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP) at Karolinska Institutet (KI) take a close look at the suicide statistics from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare. This year, they found a worrying trend. Suicide amongst 15 to 24-year-olds has increased since the 1990s. 
Although the figures don’t show a massive change, there is nonetheless cause for concern. 
“If there is an increasing trend, it is an important signal that things are developing in the wrong direction,” KI researcher Gergö Hadlaczky said.
“We now have enough data to analyze trends and we’ve found a small but significant increase among young people's suicides from around 1994 to 2017. The increase is just under one percent per year,” Hadlaczky continued. 
Although one percent per year may not sound like a big jump, he called the increase “serious”. 
Going the wrong way
The number of suicides in Sweden fell sharply in the late 1980s and 1990s but after 2000, the decrease levelled off within the general population and stop declining altogether amongst younger people. For several years in the 2000s, the youth suicide rate held constant but the trend now appears to be heading in the wrong direction. 
“It is very difficult to determine a trend but we have done three different analyses and we feel convinced,” Hadlaczky said. 
The researcher said that it hadn’t been possible to determine a definitive trend until the volume of data reached a sufficient point this year.
Researchers said they could not yet pinpoint the reasons behind the increasing youth suicide numbers, as there has not yet been a study conducted to look at the possible explanations for the increase. 
“We have no current plans for a larger study but now I think there is ample reason to apply for funds to investigate why we are seeing this increase,” Hadlaczky said. 
In 2017, 1,544 people took their own lives in Sweden. Of those, 1,063 were men while 541 were women. There were 149 suicides amongst the 15 to 24 age group and eight children under the age of 14 took their own lives. 
Suicide is the leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44 in Sweden. 
The charity group Suicide Zero has tried to push the Swedish government into committing more resources to suicide prevention. In an opinion piece published in Dagens Nyheter last year, the group pointed out that the roughly 1,500 people who take their own lives in Sweden each year is around six times higher than the number of people who die in traffic accidents but suicide prevention research only receives around three million kronor ($368,700) in state finances each year, while traffic safety research receives between 100 and 150 million kronor ($12.2-18.4 million) from the state.
“If suicide prevention work is to be effective, it is necessary to have a plan and allocate resources in all municipalities as well as county councils nationally,” Suicide Zero's general secretary Alfred Skogberg and coordinator Lotta Ekdahl wrote.