York Theatre Royal
That this play is a modern classic is an established fact. Joe Penhall’s career was launched when this hit the stage of the National Theatre in 2000, since which he has flitted between writing for the stage, television and film (The Road, most recently).
The credentials of the play well established, there could be a temptation to direct with a loose hand, let the script do all the work – after all, when a script is this good, why not?
Director Juliet Forster and the cast of three resist any such temptation.
Instead, they grapple and wrestle with a text that is dazzlingly strong to bring it bursting to life.
Christopher is a patient in a “mental unit”. That he is a black patient is relevant.
His caring, naive doctor, Bruce, is wet behind the ears and has a desperate desire to help Christopher.
Robert has no such innocence. The consultant in charge of the psychiatric unit, he rules with a Machiavellian intent and he is the ultimate authority. If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely then Robert is absolutely corrupt. Right?
Well, maybe not. Bruce wants to keep Christopher in the ward, Robert wants to let him go. Initially both make purely clinical arguments for their stand point, as the action unfolds much more is revealed behind the decisions.
Racial politics, the state of the NHS, even what we mean by reality are themes Penhall grapples with in his script. When Christopher sees oranges, to him they are blue (hence the title). Who, asks Robert, are we to say he’s wrong? The question is valid, Robert’s intentions behind asking it, suspect.
A twisting, intelligent and visceral play, Barney George’s design spills off the stage and into the small studio space, incorporating the audience in the guilt of the charge of communal failure the play levels at us.
In the small studio space, where there is nowhere to escape, the play becomes engrossing and the performances intensify.
You may well leave the theatre absolutely convinced that Michael Beckley as Robert actually slithered on and off the stage. Those around him are equal to him. Brilliant and engrossing.
To May 19.