Who’s mad and who’s sane?  It’s a question that resonates deeply with literature (who can forget One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest protagonist Randle McMurphy and his battle with the system?), film and let’s face it, modern society.  The answer, balancing on a knife edge, can hold the key to all manner of things.  And in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange, that key is the key to freedom.

I recently previewed Canoe Theatre’s Blue/Orange, keen to drum up a bit of interest for this exceptional play that has seen huge success in the past with National Theatre.  The subject matter gripped me from the word go; a failing NHS, the ramifications of institutional politics and a young man wrestling with his identity and mental well-being.

Performed at Sherman Cymru, the story was set entirely in a doctor’s office.  We (as the audience) were led into the theatre where rows of plastic chairs surrounded this simple set up.  Immediately it reminded me of a doctor’s waiting room; I can’t be sure if this is what they were trying to evoke, but it certainly did the trick for me..

production 4

The intimate setting was integral in the drama and power of the performance.  Played entirely by three actors, we were so close we could quite easily touch them if we reached out and tried.  That uncomfortable feeling and closeness encapsulated the paranoia projected by the play’s main star, Christopher (played by RWCMD student, Simon Mokhele).

As we eagerly awaited the start of the play, I as always had high expectations.  I knew it would go one of either way; the play would be thought-provoking, intellectual and powerfully compelling, or it would miss the real issues at hand.

production shots 1

Well, happily it went the first way.  Blue/Orange tackled the ever-present problems of a poorly funded NHS, where professionals lose sight of their obligation to help the sick and the mentally troubled in a bid to cut costs and free up beds.

Christopher, who has been detained under the mental health act with borderline personality disorder, is due to be released.  His fate lies in the hands of Bruce, a doctor certain that Christopher’s issues run far deeper than originally imagined, and Robert, the “big dog” of the hospital, with his sights set entirely on promotions, publishing a book (with a focus on “black psychosis”… yep, seriously) and cutting corners and costs in any way possible.

production shots 2

As Bruce persists to try and detain Christopher for longer (with the worry that actually he is suffering from schizophrenia), Robert further and further asserts his place, juggling with Christopher’s mental-wellbeing in the process.

It’s the soul-destroying tale of those in charge being able to do whatever the hell they like, even if it does lack any morality and suggest utter insanity.

And there the question lies; who is truly insane?

Is the Orange really blue?

Is Christopher really the son of Idi Amin?

Obviously I don’t want to give too much away.  What I can say is Blue/Orange attacks this profoundly complicated theme with wit and dramatic vigour.  It dives straight into the issues of racial prejudice and cultural judgement; almost painfully so.

Political, funny and seriously unnerving.  It was brilliant.

My only criticism would be the length of the first half.  I think it could have been cut easily by half an hour; and it wasn’t until the second half that I was truly consumed by the play, feeling anger, resentment, shock and pity all in one bundle.  The subject matter was so poignant and the acting was so superb that I think the dialogue could have been reduced… just to make it a bit snappier and more attention-grabbing.

Overall the play did exactly what it set out to do.  It highlighted the problems overwhelming the NHS and the racial prejudices still existing, challenging and evoking emotions; but it did all this in a somehow light… but equally powerful way.   It was quite magic.

Blue/Orange is showing at Sherman Cymru until Thursday.  Catch it while you can.



21-23 January at Sherman Cymru.

Tickets £12 (Under 25s £6)

blue orange

Christopher has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  After a grueling 28 days detained under the Mental Health Act he is due to be released.  But as the NHS crumbles and institutional politics brim over the edge, where does his fate lie?

This month the classic contemporary play Blue/Orange comes to Sherman Cymru.  Following success at National Theatre (originally created by Joe Penhall over 10 years ago), Welsh theatre company Canoe Theatre now hopes to wow Welsh audiences with the experience of this fantastic production.  It’s the companies first production; by the looks of things, they’re going to kick off with an almighty bang.

It’s darkly funny.  A daring combination of race, mental health and social structure, the play resonates in a palpable way with the current politics of today.  Christopher’s destiny lies solely in the hands of two doctors; but what’s to do with a man who could well be the illegitimate son of an African dictator?

Director Julia Thomas puts the play simply: “It is honest, funny and well observed. It makes you think but also makes you laugh. It is a contemporary classic that will resonate deeply with audiences.”

Featuring a stellar cast (including Matthew Bulgo of Sleeping Beauties, I’m with the band and Praxis makes perfect) Blue/Orange hits Sherman Cymru on Jan 21 until 23.  If you’re looking for something a bit different, something meaningful or something raw, this is the play for you.

For £12 it’s an absolute bargain.  Even better, under 25s get in half price.  To find out more about the show and tickets, visit the Sherman website.