Harriet Madeley’s verbatim play about palliative care and terminal illness takes its name from a visualisation exercise. For some exercises, the patients at a hospice are asked to imagine themselves on a beach; in others, they are asked to visualise colours.
The performers of The Colours each wear a T-shirt in a bright colour, and carry a hollow stool with a matching seat cover. Inside each stool is sand and vessels to move or spill that sand. The performers use the vessels to symbolise CDs, cups or chemotherapy. The sand is spilled over them, on the floor, or poured into a suspended bucket that drops sand like an egg timer. It’s an atmospheric summoning of sand as a measurement of time, wasted or hoarded, but ultimately finite.
In contrast with this cerebral stagecraft, The Colours is an immensely warm, humorous, poignant piece. Based on interviews conducted at the Ty Olwen Hospice in Wales, it is skilfully and empathetically curated. Madeley follows four central characters – Joe and his wife Jill, Erica and Raymond – who reckon with sickness and mortality in impeccable Welsh accents.
Morfydd Clark and Ché Francis excel as gender-swapped Joe and Jill – a bold casting move that encourages the audience to consider both the deeply personal aspect of the stories, and their universal themes. Every performer takes on several roles, including the chorus-style voices of the doctors and carers, who speak while performing tai chi.
A surprisingly uplifting work, The Colours is a model example of verbatim theatre done well.