Blue/Orange doesn't sound like the perfect night out at the theatre. An unpacking of psychosis, this rather existentialist three-hand play by Joe Penhall focuses on the definitions of mental illness and the conflicting, conflicted men who define them.
Twenty-four year old Christopher's Border Personality Disorder attracts the attention of two vastly differing psychiatrists. Bruce, a young, progressive registrar, wants to diagnose Christopher as schizophrenic and begin medicinal treatment right away; experienced consultant Robert wants to sign Christopher off and send him back into the community, protecting him from a lifetime of stigma.
The first act minutes of Blue/Orange is at times a hard pill to swallow. The dialogue moves with the speed and potency of an Aaron Sorkin drama, thematically hammering idealism against realism, professionalism against personality and the textbook against the individual. The result is an hour of funny observations and witty syllogisms which build sharp psychiatric portraits of the characters but do little to propel any sense of story forward.
What opens as a principled and at times face-numbingly intense diagnosis drama develops into a much more rewarding piece in the second act. The manipulative professional battles which arise between the two doctors are both chilling and challenging, finding near Nurse Ratched levels of psychological violence and exploding with the frustrations and dangers of professional life.
Chrisopher Luscombe has assembled a very capable cast to draw out the complex themes of Penhall's work. The development from diagnosis to desperation in Gerard McCarthy's performance as the young doctor is subtle and relaxed whilst the psychosis behind Oliver Wilson's performance is believable and sensitive.
But it is Robert Bathurst who serves as the strongest actor in the cast. The development in his character is calculated and well-observed and he carries such a confidence, such a doctorly professionalism that he could write a prescription for Quietapine without even lifting a pen.
Blue/Orange is a thematically challenging and psychologically rewarding piece of theatre, bolstered by three strong performances. The second act is an outstanding hour of theatre. And yet, it feels that the development of any real drama comes too late for this to be a great work. This is a interesting diagnosis of mental health and the corridors of power which, despite its powerful second act, is nonetheless numbing at times.
Blue/Orange is at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 10 November, 2012.