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Blue/Orange and By Order of Ignorance

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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In presenting Blue/Orange and By Order of Ignorance as a double bill the Sell a Door Theatre Company serves up a main course that fully satisfies followed by a dessert that doesn't really belong on the menu. Whilst the writing and performances in the first are powerful, tight and emotionally intense, leaving the audience drained but with plenty to digest, the second just makes you wonder what you came to the table for. That said, the pairing of the plays is effective in that it invites us to see contrasts and parallels in terms of truths, lies and identity-driven power struggles.

Blue/Orange, is just as shocking now as it was when first produced in 2001, examining mental illness, the capacity of the National Health Service to deal with this issue, power struggles within the system and racism. Christopher (played with great intensity and passion by Peter Muruako) is a young black man on the eve of his release from resident psychiatric care; but is he really mentally stable enough for this to take place? It soon becomes clear that what is really at stake is not so much Christopher's welfare but the reputation of the senior clinician, the maniacal, overbearing and manipulative Dr Smith (Peter Collis). His behaviour contrasts nicely with that of the frustrated younger psychiatrist, Bruce (sensitively played by Tarl Caple), who eventually finds release for his frustration, but finds no happy ending as a result.

The play concludes with a cliffhanger, leaving the audience to make up their own minds about the saneness of the characters and their ultimate fates. Brilliantly directed by David Hutchinson against the backdrop of Emily Barratt’s minimalist set, this is a play that provides plenty of food for thought.

In contrast, By Order of Ignorance tries to engage on too many levels and succeeds only rarely: the writer/director, Robert Gilbert, can't seem to decide whether this is a thriller with a political message or a parody. Two young men, a well-known British TV reporter and an American soldier, find themselves trapped in a café with a young Muslim terrorist following the failure of his attempted suicide mission. Though injured, he manages to hold the pair hostage; what follows is a battle for survival amid exchanges of ideas as each pleads for their viewpoint.

Unfortunately, in trying to present each of the characters’ viewpoints, Gilbert’s writing creates extremes, which are too broad to win our sympathy. Only David Hutchinson's simple-minded terrorist Mo succeeds in engaging, offering a painful portrayal of a character who has lost his wits. Mo’s own beliefs have been supplanted to the extent that he cannot deal with the situation he finds himself in, yet he maintains enough control to create genuine moments of panic, leaving us uncertain as to what he will do next.

- Dave Jordan


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