first night

Blue/Orange

Charlotte Thomas watches Lion Theatre Company tackle some difficult themes in their latest production.

 Blue/Orange, written by Joe Penhall and premiered in 2000, is a sardonic and gripping discourse on race, mental illness and power struggles. It should leave the audience questioning any preconceptions they may have had and Lion Theatre Company’s production achieved this to great effect.

The play opens in the office of Emma (Carrie Gaunt), a young doctor, and her patient Christopher (Wesley Milligan). Christopher is finally going home after his month in psychiatric care however Emma is not sure that he is ready, and wants him sectioned. Robert, the older senior consultant (Ruari Hutchinson), offers his opinion –that Christopher should go home. What ensues is a dynamic wrestle between two different philosophies, stopping at nothing to eliminate a threat – even at the expense of the patient.

The strength of the cast was truly impressive. The three actors gripped the audience’s attention totally for two-and-a-half hours and were consistently strong. Gaunt’s characterisation was meticulous: at no point did I see as much as an eyebrow slip out of character, and the reactions of someone who has been well and truly thrown under the bus were thrilling to watch. A personal highlight was her final outburst to Christopher – making one wonder whether her character as capable of manipulation as the oily Robert. However, the contrast between this and what I believe to be truly filial concern for Christopher was very touching.

Hutchinson, as Robert, presented a strong interpretation of a careerist consultant. The laissez-faire foil to Gaunt’s caution, Hutchinson managed to deeply unsettle me: not just in terms of his character’s opinions and the conviction in them, but that this conviction and commitment to character almost made me begin to believe him. Hutchinson’s deadpan tone worked very well for many of his lines as it served to bring out the humour of the piece, however I would have liked to have heard more variation, due to some lines requiring more than just a sarcastic, smooth delivery to really do justice to the subject matter. There were also moments when I thought Hutchinson could have been quicker delivering his lines, as the play relies so much on a constant flow of ideas and discourse. This being said, the scenes of discussion between Hutchinson and Gaunt were never tedious.

Finally, huge congratulations must to Milligan, playing Christopher. Consistently strong throughout, Milligan displayed an utter commitment to his character. Every facial expression, movement and vocal inflection was perfectly judged, and served to show the audience Christopher’s huge arc of emotion. From intense vulnerability, to volatile anger and frustration, to nonchalance, Milligan excelled. A particularly lasting image for me is that of the two psychiatrists arguing over Christopher in act two: the characterisations of both doctors teamed with Milligan’s confusion served to represent not only the obvious struggle between two disciplines, but also the struggle Christopher faces deciding whose thoughts are whose, and which are his own. In short, Milligan was compelling and utterly convincing in an extremely challenging role.

The decision to stage this play in Caedmon Hall concerned me, due to its notorious acoustics, but this is where LTC’s stroke of genius comes into play. They built their own ‘black box’ on the stage. This made for an incredibly intimate venue which only served to heighten the emotion and drive of the piece. Producers Alice Clarke and Katy McRae deserve recognition for the set and costumes - incredibly naturalistic and very convincing, whilst being subtle enough to allow the actors to shine. Also simple yet effective was the technical design from Alok Kumar. For a show with only one scene change during an act, there is a risk of completely halting the flow. To combat this, Kumar implemented a theme of flashing lights and loud, jarring music, which served to both mask the scene change and up the tension. Finally, I must say huge congratulations to the directorial team of Qasim Salam and Charlie Whitehead. To take a piece of theatre with such complex themes and make it accessible and gripping is a huge achievement. The direction was subtle, yet incredibly effective, creating something which darkly amused, thrilled and shocked in equal measure.

10 March 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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