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:
Rose Theatre Kingston
Reviewed – 26th September 2019
“a very human story that pulls off the almost impossible feat of making you feel nostalgic for Thatcher’s Britain”
It is 1984 in London, and while Thatcher and Scargill are at loggerheads over the miner’s strike elsewhere, the city is setting the scene for its own battles in a time of cultural upheaval. There was a revolutionary spirit, partly fuelled by the property boom, that eventually found itself in the hands of the satirists. While Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” speech echoed from Wall Street, our home grown “Loadsamoney” became a national catchphrase. But among the cacophony, a quieter voice, in the shape of the late writer Stephen Jeffreys, captured the mood with far more humanity and subtlety. “Valued Friends” was the play that launched Jeffreys’ career and won him the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award for most Promising Playwright.
In its first major revival in thirty years, the comedy and pathos still resonate in today’s turbulent economic and political climate. Yet the beauty of Jeffreys’ writing lies in his refusal to allow the social issues to take centre stage. They are merely the backdrop to the razor-sharp depiction of the characters, which makes his writing both era specific and timeless.
In a basement flat in Earls Court, four friends in their mid-thirties are scrabbling to keep their heads above water. They are thrown unexpectedly into a battle of nerves when a young, confident property developer offers them a substantial fee to vacate their home. Spurred on by the revolutions of their time, they quickly realise that they hold all the cards in this real-life game of Monopoly and, over the course of three years, they manipulate the burgeoning property market. But much more is at stake than a few quid, and that is what the audience cares about.
“How much do you care?” asks quirky, stand-up comic Sherry in the opening line. It is the beginning of a hilarious monologue about her journey home on the Underground, one of many delivered by Natalie Casey in a spellbinding performance that is a master class in comic timing. Meanwhile Michael Marcus’ Howard, an academic writing about the corruption of capitalism, is succumbing to the attraction of the pound signs waved in front of him. Marion and Paul make up the close-knit foursome destined to be torn apart. “You used to get some really good conversation in this flat. Burning issues and moral dilemmas and things. Now all everyone talks about is money”. Sam Frenchum, as Paul, brilliantly sheds his comic mantle as the keen music journalist to become the earnest home improvement enthusiast, while Catrin Stewart’s straight-talking, pragmatic Marion manages to pull our heartstrings as she discovers that the more she gains, the more she has to lose – on a purely personal level. Ralph Davis’ meticulously pitched estate agent, Scott, is a brilliant work of satire. Far from being a Mephistophelian figure he merely dangles the carrot. But show stealer is Nicholas Tennant as Stewart, who only appears in the second act as the hilarious, surreally philosophical builder.
Michael Fentiman’s sharp direction brings out the best of the actors on Michael Taylor’s simple yet ingenious set, that transforms in time-lapse motion from a scruffy basement flat to a swish, desirable property. This is a very human story that pulls off the almost impossible feat of making you feel nostalgic for Thatcher’s Britain. Richard Hammarton’s eighties soundtrack highlights the best of the decade, just as these characters shed a warm light on the heart of the matter. It’s a skilfully written and performed piece of modern satire: you shouldn’t like these people but, in answer to the opening question of the play, you care an awful lot.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Pamela Raith
Rose Theatre Kingston until 12th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: