The second production by the newly formed Theatre Royal Brighton Productions is Joe Penhall’s multi award-winning play Blue/Orange. This piece, which covers the twin themes of ethnicity and mental health, is one that lives or dies on the strength of its three performers and I am thrilled to say that, under Christopher Luscombe’s direction, the actors deliver a living, breathing, jewel of a play.
The set is a cleverly designed suite of offices in a psychiatric hospital in which the three characters meet to discuss the future of a patient who, after 28 days locked up, is now due for release. To simplify the plot dramatically, one doctor thinks the patient should be released into the community and the other doctor thinks that he is not ready for release. Then there is the patient, stuck right in the middle.
Gerard McCarthy is Bruce, a junior doctor who has been taking care of the patient since he was sectioned by the police. Bruce believes that his patient is displaying many signs of full-scale paranoid-schizophrenia and is passionately opposed to the idea that his patient is ready for release into society. He believes that, should he be released back to his West London housing estate now, the patient’s condition would quickly worsen to the point where he would harm himself, or someone else.
Senior consultant psychiatrist Robert is played by Robert Bathurst and it is he who fervently believes that the patient should leave as planned. He believes that some of the symptoms the patient displays should simply be seen as the natural responses of anyone who has been sectioned and spent 28 days in the company of severely disturbed patients.
Robert is also writing a book that recognises that mental health issues are more prevalent in people who come from his ethnic and cultural background. He believes that some of the behaviour is, to a certain extent, genetic.
In a shockingly frank exchange Robert explains to Bruce that his main function in the hospital is to preserve the hospital’s budget by releasing patients and clearing beds as quickly as possible, releasing the patients so that they can rely on the Government’s “care in the community” initiatives for support – a reliance which (it is suggested) is almost always based on powerful mind-numbing drugs.
Oliver Wilson takes on the role of the very confused patient, Christopher. At times he displays the quite dramatic symptoms of someone dealing with a mind that plays tricks on him, but at other times he is able to sit quietly, observing what is going on around him and taking in every detail of the events that are unfolding.
As, after its Brighton run, TRBP will be taking the show on a national tour before a West End residency, there will be ample opportunity for those who missed it 12 years ago to take in this marvellous piece and, so as not to spoil things for those people, I will refrain from divulging the conclusion.
I will, however, say this – McCarthy portrays perfectly the caring but naïve Junior Doctor who find himself at the mercy of a system with a “one size fits all” solution to mental illness and Bathurst is simply brilliant as the senior consultant who has his own future mapped out and grabs every opportunity make it happen. Wilson gives a totally mesmerising, incredibly witty, and completely believable performance as a guy who may, or may not, be mentally ill.
Do yourself a huge favour and take the opportunity to go and enjoy this funny, heart-wrenching, confusing and dramatic piece, so that you can make up your own mind as to whether the “professionals” make the right decision.