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Penhall's Blue/Orange Revived with Female Cast

Ten years ago, Chiwetel Ejiofor launched his career playing a young black mental patient in the world premiere of Joe Penhall’s three-hander Blue/Orange, winning Best Newcomer prizes at the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards as well as an Olivier nomination.

In October, the play will receive its first major London revival – with a twist. Ejiofor’s role - as well as those of the two doctors who argue over his future treatment, played by Andrew Lincoln and Bill Nighy in the original National Theatre and subsequent productions – will be played by a woman.

The “radically new”, all-female production – which will run at the fringe Arcola Theatre from 29 October to 20 November 2010 (previews from 27 October) - is the brainchild of Tiata Fahodzi, the company, of which Ejiofor is a patron, that seeks to represent the experiences of Africans in Britain. Statistically, black people are more likely to spend time in the UK’s mental health care system.

Commenting on the Tiata’s gender-swap approach, Joe Penhall said: “I am thrilled this production adds a new dimension to my play and another stage in its journey. There is nothing inherently ‘male’ in the play or in the mental health system. Writing about institutionalised black people more often than not focuses on the plight of men and it is significant that Tiata Fahodzi’s take on Blue/Orange shifts the emphasis to women.”

Some adjustments to the script will be required. In the original, for instance, the schizophrenic’s name is Christopher and he’s convinced he’s the son of Idi Amin, the exiled African dictator. The new production will be directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr, who formed the company in 1997 and ran it for 13 years. His last production as artistic director was the Olivier-nominated Iya-Ile at Soho Theatre, while previous Tiata Fahodzi credits include Joe Guy, The Estate and, at the Arcola in 2005, The Gods Are Not to Blame.

Blue/Orange had its world premiere, directed by Roger Michell, in April 2000 at the NT Cottesloe, before transferring to the West End’s Duchess Theatre. In addition to the prizes for Ejiofor, it won Best New Play at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards. It was adapted for TV, starring Brian Cox, John Simm and Shaun Parkes. Joe Penhall’s other credits include Landscape with Weapon, Dumb Show, Love and Understanding and Some Voices on stage, and the screenplays for The Road and Enduring Love.

Casting for the all-female version of Blue/Orange has not yet been announced. The production is designed by Ultz, with sound by Simon McCorry.


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