Blue/Orange (review)

Oliver Wilson, and Gerard McCarthy in Blue/Orange. Photo by Robert Workman.
Oliver Wilson, and Gerard McCarthy in Blue/Orange. Photo by Robert Workman.

Sometimes you just have to go on faith or reputation. Selling the story of Blue/Orange – a possibly disturbed youth caught in the crossfire between two ambitious psychiatrists – as a must see play is tough but I’d prescribe everyone with a spare night to give the Theatre Royal Brighton’s latest touring production a try.

Joe Penhall’s blistering drama is playing at The Waterside Theatre this week and it’s both thought-provoking and uttering engrossing.

Chris is a young black man who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act because he was indulging in disturbing behaviour in Shepherd’s Bush market.

Over the course of 28 days – the limit of the time he can be held – he is assessed by Dr Bruce Flaherty, a passionate and committed young therapist who feels the rather emotional Chris is suffering from a serious mental condition that requires further investigation.

On the cusp of going home Chris is distraught at the thought of being detained in the hospital until he finds himself an unlikely ally in senior consultant Dr Robert Smith.

Smith intervenes and becomes equally determined that not only should the patient be treated in the community (and save the NHS the cost of a bed) but that his case can be used for his research that will earn him a much coveted professorship.

What follows is a verbal battle between the three men with the excitable Chris caught in the middle. There are times when theatre-goers will question both his sanity and those of his doctors.

His only obvious symptoms are loneliness, depression and being subjected to racial abuse – problems faced by thousands of people claims Smith – oh and his total conviction that oranges are bright, luminous blue in colour and that his father is Idi Amin.

It’s a dialogue-heavy drama that holds your attention throughout as the dynamic moves from each character’s interaction with the other.

The experienced Smith (played with flair and conviction by Downton Abbey’s Robert Bathurst) comes across as the voice of authority – indeed he IS the voice of authority as he is keen to impress on the young and thrusting Flaherty.

There’s powerful performances from all three men, Bathurst, Oliver Wilson as Chris and Gerard McCarthy as Bruce.

A couple of things I thought odd. One the appalling choice of music which gave the impression that we were watching some lifestyle magazine programme from the early 1960s, the poor use of stage space with a squat letterbox set, and why no-one actually asked poor Chris if he was colour blind. Perhaps he wasn’t deranged at all but just unable to distinguish colour.

Blue/Orange runs until Saturday night. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7607 or go online