1 in 4 people struggle with mental health issues in the UK and it’s still a growing problem. Written twenty years ago, Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange feels as if it were written yesterday as it tackles mental health and institutionalised racism head on.
Director Daniel Bailey has taken an impressive approach to telling the story of young black man Christopher who is sectioned in a mental health facility. The narrative follows his discussions with two older white doctors that have conflicting views about Christopher’s treatment. The audience are instantly sucked into Christopher’s mind as his struggles are unravelled on stage.
Ivan Oyik takes on the role of Christopher with a really genuine approach. Still studying at Guildford School of Acting, his performance is completely commanding. Gripped onto his every word, he has natural comedy timing that he balances magnificently with the raw moments where he unleashes his emotions.
As Christopher’s mind is thrown around on stage between the rising dispute between the Consultant Robert (Richard Lintern) and younger doctor Bruce (Thomas Coombes). The constant discussion on stage sparks many questions and empathises how deeply resonant the production is. Covering everything from institutionalised racism, to the decline of the NHS, to the lack of attention paid to mental health. It’s a remarkably thought-provoking piece of theatre that is conveyed in the simplest of ways. You’d be surprised how two and a half hours of conversation between three characters can have you so gripped, but writer Joe Penhall does it with ease.
When the Consultant wants to dismiss Christopher and send him out into the world to face it himself, the younger doctor Bruce feels so strongly about continuing to treat him as the world might just break him. When Christopher lives on an estate with no friends and family, Bruce can’t help but feel he is being set up for failure. It’s a really interesting watch as you see them dissect their arguments and you find yourself unsure of what is right.
Designer Amelia Jane creatively creates the clinical environment with splashes of colour to bring the psychiatric hospital alive. The staging superbly makes the audience feel part of the performance and as if they’re involved in the conversations happening on stage.
Blue/Orange is not only a dynamic drama, but it’s a poignant and provocative conversation. It’s a piece of theatre that feels human because of how much you can connect to it, both because of the smart and simple way it’s told and the themes themselves. The way it opens up an important dialogue around mental health really does show the power of theatre and storytelling.
On at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday 16th of February, tickets can be found on their website.