REVIEW: blue/orange – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Bruce (Gerard McCarthy), a junior doctor in a mental hospital, has asked his supervisor Robert (Robert Bathurst) to sit in on a final assessment of Christopher (Oliver Wilson), a young black man from Shepherds Bush who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Almost at the end of his statutory 28 days initial treatment he still appears to be suffering from paranoid delusions, claiming to be the illegitimate son of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and insisting that the oranges in the fruit bowl are blue. Bruce, who seems to have Christopher’s best wishes at heart, thinks he needs to be detained. Robert, who admits he needs to free up beds, is insisting he is released into care in the community.

Is Robert completely unconcerned and detached from patient care? Is Bruce as altruistic as he seems? Is Christopher actually schizophrenic? The play asks but never truly answers these questions. 

Written by Joe Penhall and first performed in 2000, the play’s cultural references are somewhat outdated and the central issue of race and its place in the diagnosis of mental illness, as thought-provoking and conversationally stimulating as it may be, doesn’t go as far as it could. That said the cast deliver fine performances with the material they have. Bathurst as the egomaniacal, R.D. Laing quoting, consultant, expertly delivers the laughs with a tiny gesture or a nuanced line and McCarthy and Wilson are competent as the concerned young doctor and disturbed patient respectively, but the dialogue and the narrative become repetitive over the course of the piece and the characters while not exactly one-dimensional never fully develop beyond the surface.

An interesting piece, skilfully delivered and beautifully set, but the writing is lacking that extra something to set it apart.

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