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Review: The Colours (Soho Theatre)

A new verbatim play explores the meaning of life for those with a limited life expectancy

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Morfydd Clark and Mark Knightley
© Hannah Anketell

The residents of Swansea's Ty Olwen Hospice and Cardiff's Velindre Cancer Centre are the subject of this new verbatim play, which opens at Soho Theatre for a summer run. With the help of a bit of George Ezra and Yusuf / Cat Stevens, The Colours follows those riding shotgun in their own bodies, betrayed by organs and facing a limited life expectancy.

The patients involved are a likeable bunch, never despairing at their situations and simply trying to carry on living, however they can. The piece does a fantastic job of giving a vibrant sense of life to a situation that often feels like anything but. This is a deeply personal subject for writer Harriet Madeley, who was diagnosed with the untreatable Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. Her message shines out throughout – finding out your life is ending doesn't mean you have to stop living.

Considering Madeley has assembled such a rich amount of material from these fascinating patients, each with their odd quirks ("I want to be shaved with a samurai sword", one of them casually remarks), Max Barton's production is sadly uninspired. A lot of the content (perhaps even voices from beyond the grave), played to the actors while they all sport headphones, is simply repeated as-is on stage, with a degree of curation and refinement. Rarely is anything adventurous or exciting attempted, and sometimes the performers feel like unnecessary participants in 70 minutes of pure playback. The symbolic yet distracting use of buckets of sand on Luke W Robson's set is meant to highlight the finite amount of time left for these interviewees, but it feels periphery and never really gels with the rest of the production, except for two serene passages set on deck chairs on an imaginary beach bookending the show.

It's the cast that does the heavy lifting, expertly mimicking the intonations and amiable chatter of the hospice residents. Morfyyd Clark excels as the aforementioned risk-taking shaver, while Claire-Marie Hall makes incessant optimism into a quietly tragic personality trait. They provide a shimmering warmth inside a production that feels oddly clinical.