24 November 2021

Blue/Orange Royal and Derngate Review.

 "fascinating and frighteningly it feels so real"

Joe Penhall's play Blue/Orange was first performed in the year 2000, now 21 years later and under Royal and Derngate Artistic Director James Dacre the play is given a fresh relevant staging.


Set across 24 hours in an NHS psychiatric hospital in London the three-hander play tells of patient Christopher, played by Michael Balogun, who is a day away from release, and the power struggle between two doctors, the young trainee Bruce, played by Ralph Davis, who believes Christopher isn't ready to be released and should be diagnosed with schizophrenia and the senior consultant in charge Robert, played by Giles Terera who believes Christopher needs to be released as they can't give a bed to someone who doesn't need it and so he can live his life again.


Michael Balogun, Giles Terera, and Ralph Davis. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Across the two hours and a quarter performance, the play covers some heavy topics including mental health, suicide, and racism. At the heart, this is a piece about the struggles of all the characters involved. It's broken down into scenes at various times in the 24 hours and moves along at quite a steady pace. The piece is cleverly written and jumps from real moments of dark to light in a flash.


Balogun is outstanding as the central character Christopher. He perfectly captures the emotions, from anger, fear, and confusion. He is captivating to watch. He shines in every moment.


Terera and Davis are fantastic too. They're scenes as the two doctors clash over their perceived treatment of Christopher. The tension could be cut with a knife as Terera's Robert believes the system is misdiagnosing members of the black community. 


Robert becomes somewhat villainous as he brims with arrogance and power looming and belittling Bruce along the way. The trust is questioned as it's left to the audience to decide what Robert's motives are. What are his real reasons for wanting to treat Robert, is it for his own gain as he is planning on writing a book around the psychotic minds of some black people and how he can treat them. As someone who has suffered from their own mental wellbeing, I'm not sure I'd want a doctor like Robert to treat me.

Ralph Davis, Michael Balogun and Giles Terera. Photo by Marc Brenner.

The three actors deliver the piece with real skill and believability. Each delivering their scenes with fantastic talent and pacing around Simon Kenny's square set like prized boxers about to start the next round against their opponent. 


The play remains as relevant as the day it was written. It's not what I'd describe as an especially pleasurable watch but it is fascinating and frighteningly it feels so real. 


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ powerful topical theatre.


Blue/Orange continues at Royal and Derngate until Saturday 4th December 2021. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk/ to book.

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