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Blue/Orange review at Courtyard Covent Garden London

Joe Penhall’s three-hander, seen first at the National in 2000, won all that year’s awards for Best Play. Set in a mental hospital, it asks tough questions about psychiatric diagnosis, in particular exploring whether ethnocentric bias could mistake young black male behaviour for borderline insanity.

Chris, a Shepherd’s Bush stallholder, who believes his father was Idi Amin, is frightened of skinhead ‘zombies’ and perceives oranges as bright blue. Now a senior consultant and his registrar are at loggerheads over his future treatment as a potentially dangerous schizophrenic, a fierce squabble that threatens their professional reputations.

Bruce believes Chris may harm himself or others and insists on sectioning his patient for further tests, while Robert, concerned about lack of beds and with wayward theories of his own, intervenes to have the man released to what he knows to be non-existent ‘care in the community’.

The South Bank premiere was swift and funny, bowling along at speed, giving audiences few chances to question the detail. Alas this first London revival by Jonathan Bidgood takes a leisurely pace, including two intervals for minor changes of setting, as a result exposing the lack of substance or back-story for its three protagonists.

Giving the strongest performance, Femi Ogunbanjo brings a powerful attack to his exuberant portrayal of Chris but remains the sum of his symptoms. Jonathan Baker’s Bruce, a ruffled figure in baggy jeans, takes a tangential approach to patient care, while Julien Ball finds almost none of the comic menace in the ambitious but paper-thin consultant with doubtful motives.

Production Information

Courtyard, Covent Garden, London, September 5-24

Author
Joe Penhall
Director
Jonathan Bidgood
Producer
Fer’vent Theatre
Cast
Jonathan Baker, Julien Ball, Femi Ogunbanjo
Running time
2hrs 40mins
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