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Review: Blue/Orange @ Sherman Cymru

Posted by Jackofalltrades from Cardiff - Published on 24/01/2014 at 12:03
0 comments » - Tagged as Art, Health, Stage, Drugs

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Blue/Orange

Sherman Cymru

Thursday 23rd January 2014

On Thursday night, I had the absolute pleasure to go and watch Canoe Theatre’s production of the Joe Penhall play Blue/Orange, at the always-delightful Sherman Cymru. As with almost every time I see a new piece of theatre there, I am reminded of why I love being just a stone’s throw away.

Performing to a sell out audience, we were hosted in a re-imagined Theatre 2 and led through the stage doors, which had been effectively made to look like a mental health clinic (think lots of white and neutral colours), and sat down in chairs around the edge in a style reminiscent of a GP’s waiting room. Blue/Orange lends itself excellently to such an intimate setting as it really feels you are witnessing what occurs behind closed doors.

Blue/Orange takes place over 24 hours in a London NHS psychiatric hospital in 1999, where Christopher; a mental health patient detained under the Mental Health Act as a Section 2, is fast approaching the end of his 28 days.

But is there more to him than first thought?

The scenario at hand is presented to us by a cast of only three: Christopher; played by Simon Mokhele, Bruce; played by Matthew Bulgo and Robert; played by Craig Pinder. This format works excellently and the actors gave such striking performances that I doubt I could watch the play again without comparing any other portrayals against the ones I saw here.

Christopher: The focus of the show, has been diagnosed with BPD (that’s Borderline Personality Disorder to you and me) and Mokhele portrays his constant flitting between humour, confusion and paranoia in a way that makes an instant connection with the audience. As Mokhele’s professional debut, this performance will surely stand him in good stead as he finishes his final year at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama - definitely one to watch. I always felt as though I was rooting for Christopher despite the distinct sense of threat that sometimes felt as though it was rising to the surface.

Bruce: Christopher’s main contact with the psychiatric hospital is sympathetic but hot-headed, frustrated at the way the system and policies interferes with what he feels is the best way forward for Christopher’s treatment. Bulgo masterfully pulls off an immensely difficult role here, as Bruce comes across as likeable with good intentions, but with flaws that become evidently more obvious as the show progresses. The dynamic between these two is interesting, the two talk as friends with Bruce having to watch that he does not cross the line between professional and personal, and finds himself trying to traverse a minefield of regulations.

Robert: The personification of authority, policy and ‘the system’ in the NHS is a character that you just love to hate. Robert strides the hospital as lord and overseer with a pig-headed disconnectedness from everything him around that truly sets the blood to boiling. Pinder played the part so convincingly in fact, that two psychologists I happened to take a seat next to, even commented to his accuracy and credit.

What we find ourselves party to as the show begins to gain in pace is this tug of war over Christopher’s well being between Bruce’s more ‘human’ approach to his care and the more ‘systematic’ approach favoured by Robert and the system.  

This set up acts as a very clever metaphor for the different approaches to healthcare, showing us that the ‘human’ approach personified by Bruce has benefits but cannot be allowed to go unregulated; due to his hot temper and chance of error and that the ‘systematic’ approach of Robert is dictated by budgetary concerns, policy, politics and is not effective case by case.

Neither argument is given preference, and we see them fight so strongly over what is the best thing for Christopher that they themselves become the worst thing for him. When what he really needs is stability, he is met with division.

Throughout the show, we are posed with numerous questions concerning the approach to mental health, the stigma surrounding it and our attitude to treatment and by the end of the show we find ourselves with no answers. Although the show does clearly have the intention to make us think about these issues, it never felt laboured or shoehorned in and was dispersed nicely among moments of true comedy gold (the words ‘Do you know what I mean?’ come to mind).

In short, Blue/Orange is an excellent piece of script, which when performed with the care, energy and talent shown here, rises to a level far greater than the sum of its unique and thought provoking parts.

Blue/Orange was directed by Julia Thomas and produced by Kate Perridge.

Additional credits go to Elgan Rhys as associate director, Charlotte Neville as designer, Isobel Howe as lighting designer, Megan Price as digital marketing and Luke Spencer as composer of Hellavator Heaven.

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