Blue/Orange

Posted by Laurence Green

One of the best plays of the past two decades, namely Joe Penhall's Olivier Award-winning 2000 work Blue/Orange is back in a first-rate revival, directed by Matthew Xia, at the Young Vic Theatre.

Blue/Orange

One of the best plays of the past two decades, namely Joe Penhall's Olivier Award-winning 2000 work Blue/Orange is back in a first-rate revival, directed by Matthew Xia, at the Young Vic Theatre.

Set in an NHS psychiatric unit, the play focuses on a power struggle between two doctors, the older consultant Robert and junior doctor Bruce, over the treatment of Christopher, a troubled Afro-Caribbean youth. As Christopher, who was detained in hospital after behaving alarmingly at Shepherd's Bush market, reaches the end of his 28 days confinement, Robert wants to discharge him and free up bed space for other patients, while Bruce thinks he may be schizophrenic. At first, the patient's colourful fantasies, for example, being fathered by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, seem plausible, but then his condition seems much more serious.

The cleverness of Penhall's playwriting comes from the fact that we see Christopher mainly through the eyes of his doctors, so we are never sure just how disturbed he is. The drama, which is laced with biting wit, is both intellectually inflammatory and emotionally satisfying and packs even more of a punch 16 years after its debut at the National Theatre. As the drama gathers momentum, the questions multiply. Who's mad and who's sane? Are Christopher's outbursts a reaction to persistent racism? Could the voices outside his head be doing more damage than the ones inside? How do language and bureaucracy flatten the complexity of the individual's plight?

As designed by Jeremy Herbert, the blue decor contrasts vividly with the oranges on the central table of the consulting room - Christopher fervently believes oranges are blue, hence the title.

It is the superb performances, though, that really lift this production and make it so absorbing and engaging. David Haig's Robert who, on discharging his disturbed patient advises him "to go home and listen to some Reggae (music)!" is cavalier, yet also manipulative, patronising and pompous, while Luke Norris's Bruce, initially puppyish, becomes earnest and then desperate. But it is Daniel Kaluuya who impresses most as the raging heart of this unforgettable drama, bringing nervy, manic and changeable energy to the role of Christopher. He not only conveys the character's distress but also his exasperation and vulnerability, raising the emotional temperatures to bursting point.

Overall then, this exquisitely sharp 'State of the nation' play seems as timely now as it was when first staged.

 

Blue/Orange

Runs at the Young Vic until Saturday 2 July 2016  

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