Blue / Orange
Royal and Derngate Theatre
Reviewed – 23rd November 2021
“Blue/Orange remains a thought-provoking and relevant play, well-worthy of this new revised production”
This award-winning play by Joe Penhall is set in a London NHS psychiatric hospital where two doctors discuss a possible diagnosis for their patient – schizophrenia, psychosis, neurosis, borderline personality disorder – but we don’t need to fully understand these terms. The crux of the matter is that these two psychiatrists control the freedom of the third man.
The set (Designer Simon Kenny) is a closed black box, no windows, one concealed door. A square on the floor is marked out by a bright white light. Two institutional plastic chairs face each other confrontationally, between them a low table and on it a fruit bowl containing some oranges. Above the stage is suspended a large black block on which a digital clock face is projected showing us the time at the start of each act. The action of the play takes place over a period of one day – the final twenty-four hours before the patient is either free to leave the hospital or he is re-sectioned and detained for a further period.
This is an excellent production. The direction of the players around the space is first-rate (Director James Dacre) and it is hard to find fault in the performances of the three actors. The patient Christopher (Michael Balogun), in grey hoodie, tracky bottoms and trainers, prowls around the space, a caged bear. His moods swing from high spirits to near depression, his movements range from bouncing across the stage to sinking deep in a chair. Balogun convinces us entirely. This man is disturbed, volatile and unpredictable. For him, the oranges in the bowl look blue and, when cut into, the flesh of the orange is blue too. But is he a danger either to himself or others?
Registrar Bruce (Ralph Davis), dressed in grey casual work attire (no men in white coats here), ID lanyard around his neck, suspects that Chris is sicker than he appears and wants to keep him in hospital before his condition deteriorates. But to instruct so means going against the wishes of the Authority and Bruce has his own career ambitions to think about.
Consultant Robert (Giles Terera), in a crisp shirt and smart grey suit and tie, wants Chris released within the day. But Robert also has his own agenda, research to do and a book to write, so how far can he be trusted? Terera shows the self-importance of this man from his first appearance, dominating the space and exuding the character’s class and privilege through perfect posture and enunciation.
The square of the consulting room begins to resemble a sporting arena as both doctors attempt to score points off each other, playing off their patient between them, until just one of them remains standing.
Twenty years since its first production, Blue/Orange remains a thought-provoking and relevant play, well-worthy of this new revised production. And the sincere and honest performances of this cast make a memorable piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Marc Brenner
Blue / Orange
Royal and Derngate Theatre until 4th December
Previously reviewed at this venue in 2021:
The Kite Runner
Reviewed – 10th March 2020
“doesn’t always capture the beauty of the novel, but it certainly wrings the emotion from the central themes and relationships”
Khaled Hosseini’s beautifully crafted debut novel, published in 1993, begins by telling the story of Amir, a young boy from the Kabul, and his close friend, Hassan. Hosseini successfully weaves an intimate saga of guilt and atonement into the framework of an epic backdrop. Although set against a backdrop of the tumultuous events – from the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion; the exodus of refugees and the rise of the Taliban – the reader is continually drawn into the minds of the main protagonists, and their personal battles and relationships. Presenting the grand scale of its setting with the small scale drama of the characters is always going to be a challenge. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation for the stage is faithful to the book and tells the story with startling clarity. It is inevitably condensed but Spangler manages to include all the key events without muddying the context.
We begin at the end. Afghani immigrant Amir is summoned from his California home to Pakistan by Rahim Khan, an old, dying friend of his father, who enigmatically tells Amir that “there is a way to be good again”. Rewind a quarter of a century and we meet Amir as a wealthy, privileged boy in Afghanistan, and his best friend, Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. When Hassan is brutally assaulted by a local bully, Amir is too scared to save him, and is tormented by feelings of guilt which follow him across the continents and generations. Barney George’s simple but effective set, dominated by a rising and falling kite, neatly evokes the central themes while also setting the scene – deftly transforming the Afghan landscape into the San Francisco skyline. Without having to worry where we are geographically and politically we are free to concentrate on the characters and the story. A story of love and betrayal, fathers and sons, good and evil, and the many grey areas in between.
David Ahmad, as Amir, is central to the drama, alternating between the role of narrator and then stepping into his reminiscences. The play does veer disproportionately towards telling us what happens rather than showing us, but Ahmad is a skilled storyteller whose portrayal is ultimately quite moving, especially in the closing moments when he learns some uncomfortable truths about his childhood. Equally strong support comes from Andrei Costin as the childhood friend, Hassan, who also doubles as his own orphaned son (apologies for the spoiler!) in the second act. Their alliance forms much of the political tension: their respective families coming from opposing ethnic backgrounds, although both becoming victims of the rise of the Taliban.
Dean Rehman cuts a formidable figure as Amir’s father, casting twin shadows of love and overbearing expectations over his susceptible son. The ensemble shift in the background between varying characters, occasionally coming to the fore to highlight key moments in the plot; particularly Lisa Zahra, who encapsulates wonderfully the patience and sorrow of Soraya, a fellow refugee of Amir who becomes his wife.
This production of The Kite Runner doesn’t always capture the beauty of the novel, but it certainly wrings the emotion from the central themes and relationships. In just over two hours we do get a pint-sized version, but it is a clear-cut potted history, thick with the atmosphere of a family saga; an atmosphere intensified by Jonathan Girling’s rhythmic soundscape, played live by Hanif Khan. Hosseini’s words are brought to life from the page in Giles Croft’s captivating production that orchestrates a man’s epic journey to the intimate tempos of his beating heart.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Irina Chira
The Kite Runner
Richmond Theatre until 14th March then UK tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: