Theatre Review: blue/orange - York Theatre Royal


 York Theatre Royal 

Tuesday 1st May: The beauty of having two performance spaces is being demonstrated brilliantly by York Theatre Royal at the moment as, whilst Shakespeare can be found in the main house, the more contemporary Oliver Award winning blue/orange is captivating audiences in the much smaller, intimate Studio.

Joe Penhall’s tale centres around Christopher (Lekan Lawal), a patient at a London psychiatric hospital hoping to be released with 24 hours but suffering from the delusion that his father is African dictator Idi Amin and the belief that oranges are in fact blue. Fighting to keep him in care is the well meaning Doctor Bruce (Jonathan Race) whereas Senior Consultant Robert (Michael Beckley), keeping one eye on the balance sheet and the lack of beds, feels release back in to the community is much the better idea. A battle ensues between the two as the state of the NHS, the treatment of patients with mental illness, race and a plethora of other social issues are skilfully dissected and picked apart in this engaging, thought provoking but darkly amusing production.

The three actors hold the audiences focus throughout with great performances that show the complexities of each character – not one of them is straight forward and each presents views that have merit. On numerous occasions I felt uncomfortable as I found my self agreeing with some of the points raised by the Consultant, despite understanding that his motives were less than pure – his status in the ranks of physiatrists (and potential elevation to the ranks of Professor) and his budget constraints being his main driving forces.

But who is the mad man here? Obviously Christopher is the one being cared for, but Robert’s mannerisms show him to be highly strung and almost power crazed, maybe not too many steps away from the edge whereas Bruce is pushed dangerously close to breaking point before the evening is through.

Putting in the stand out performance is Michael Beckley, who some may recognise from Home & Away; though his character here is less than homely and a long, long way away from the sun kissed beaches of Australia. His sneering, crafty Consultant is brilliantly portrayed – making it hard to keep your eyes off him at any point he is on stage.  He is bold, almost eccentric, in his manner, underlines everything with sharp hand movements and his line in quick, witty (though often dark) one liners are among the show’s many delights.

Barney George’s set gives the cast the bare essentials to do their jobs whilst giving them the space to do those jobs extremely well. The three of them, alongside director Juliet Forster, deserve huge praise for getting the balance just right. Whilst the style is distinctly theatrical it never veers too far away from reality which would have diluted the powerful punch the production packs.

This is a tough, uncompromising show that is wonderfully enjoyable too and which the York Theatre Royal should be applauded for staging. It raises many questions and must be a must see for anyone in the mental health profession – or any of the caring professions for that matter. And as for the rest of you?  Well you should see it too!

Review by James Eaglesfield

Blue/orange continues at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 19 May