Blue/Orange

Greenwich Playhouse, 17 November – 6 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Sell A Door Theatre’s performance-led production has nothing particular to add to Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange. There’s no enlightening reinterpretation, no fresh context or frame to refresh the nine-year-old text. But there doesn’t need to be. Penhall’s acerbic examination of race and mental health issues within the NHS and 21st century Britain at large feels as current as it did at the turn of the millennium.

Clearly recognising this, the company allow the text to do the talking, and provide three assured performances through which it can do so. Designer Emily Barratt keeps the staging curt – chairs, a water cooler and the requisite bowl of oranges on a pedestal – allowing the cast maximum space to perform (and, helpfully, the wide performance area of the Greenwich Playhouse lends itself to irate or nervous pacing).

Tarl Caple is engagingly earnest as psychiatrist Bruce Flaherty, whether digging for the causes of his patient’s episodes or defending his own professional integrity. Pete Collis is an ebullient Dr Robert Smith, likeable enough to encourage reasoned consideration of views that would have someone less charismatic painted rapidly as a stereotypical middle-management villain, more concerned with targets and beds than patient welfare. The pair seem to draw energy from one another, exciting the production’s energy levels whenever they butt heads, and both earn their climactic bouts of scenery-chewing several times over.

As Christopher, the young man that (the two colleagues disagree) is either schizophrenic, borderline neurotic/psychotic or simply black, Peter Muruako curveballs between skittishness and threatening self-assurance, and manages the exhausting task of maintaining a discernible emotional justification that strings his discrete actions together into a believable performance.

Unreal blue and orange lighting states accompanied by the sound of tinnitus evoke moments of pathos and bathos that highlight the dubious veracity of Christopher’s claims (or fantasies). Otherwise this is Penhall’s text presented unadorned, with nary a gimmick nor a flawed performance to distract from it.

Written by Joe Penhall

Crew includes David Hutchinson (director), Emily Barratt (designer) and Jamie Haining (lighting designer)

Cast includes Tarl Caple (Dr Bruce Flaherty), Pete Collis (Dr Robert Smith) and Peter Muruako (Christopher)

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