Review: Blue/Orange at Richmond Theatre
L to r: Oliver Wilson, Robert Bathurst and Gerard McCarthy in Blue/Orange
A shrewd, sardonic comedy, Blue/Orange ingeniously mocks semantics and political correctness while probing deeper themes of race and mental health, writes Rob Edwards
Translated into 23 different languages since it first premiered in 2000 and adapted into a film in 2005, the show has won the Evening Standard Best Play Award, the Olivier Award for Best New Play 2001 and the Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Play 2000.
Starring Robert Bathurst (Downton Abbey, Emma, Wild at Heart), Gerard McCarthy (The Fall, Vikings, Hollyoaks) and Oliver Wilson (Misfits, Hollyoaks, Casualty) Joe Penhall’s thriller unleashes a rapid-fire dialogue that demands close attention.
“For this play I needed the precision I’ve practised in comedy, as it’s a very punchy, orchestrated work,” said director Christopher Luscombe, who played Lady Thatcher’s voice coach in The Iron Lady.
“The writing is beautiful and manages the thought process in a very careful way. It’s sophisticated.”
The set, designed by Colin Falconer, is wholly original – layered and segmented, clinical and unpretentious – detracting none from the heavy dialogue.
Hinged on a complex diagnostic disagreement between Robert, a consultant psychiatrist and his student, Bruce, a junior doctor, the play challenges black and white assumptions about sanity/insanity and conflicting cultural norms.
“The motive was to say something about cultural specificity, which, it seems to me, nobody has written about in a play,” said the award winning writer, Jon Penhall.
“I wanted to show how all people, whatever their cultural identity, can be misunderstood and characterised in bizarre ways, through cultural misunderstanding and lazy assumption.”
The audience maintain a love/hate relationship with Robert (Bathurst) whose candid, cynical approach to the hospital budget, the modern world and his own career are both shocking and comical.
As well as implying a cosy relationship with pharmaceutical firms, Robert openly states that one of his primary functions as a senior psychiatrist is to save money by emptying hospital beds and sending patients back to the community, dosed up on drugs.
Christopher (Wilson), a patient of Ugandan decent, is an intricate character believed to be suffering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the borderline between neurosis and psychosis.
Convinced the surgery fruit bowl contains bright blue oranges, the character also insists his father is the deposed Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin.
The play opens on the eve of Christopher’s release from a 27-day residency at a London psychiatric hospital. His doctor Bruce (McCarthy) however wants to diagnose his patient paranoid-schizophrenic – a condition he believes will worsen if Christopher is allowed to returns to his White City housing estate.
Spanning themes that seem just as relevant today, the play touches on the stresses of urban modern life, inadequacy, persecution and social inequality.
“I like to make the audience work. Just as I like to work when I’m watching something,” said Penhall. “I hate obvious things handed to me on a plate. I hate the obvious.”
True to his word, this is a performance that requires concentration. But those wary of highbrow entertainment should withhold judgment – Blue/Orange is accessible, clean-cut and witty – possibly the best show touring this season.
Blue/Orange will be showing at Richmond Theatre from Nov 13 to 17.
To book, call the Richmond Theatre box office on 0844 871 7651 or visit AGT Tickets.