‘Blue/Orange’ review

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Christopher (played by Oliver Wilson) is nearing his ’28’. Having previously been sectioned, he is now nearing the time when he is due to be signed off, due fit for release. However, Bruce (ex-Hollyoaks star Gerard McCarthy), the young doctor responsible primarily for Christopher’s care, believes that his patient is suffering from full-blown paranoid-schizophrenia, and is reluctant to let him go back to an uncaring community. Bruce has asked his mentor Robert (Downton Abbey’s Robert Bathurst) to have a look at Chris, confident that his superior’s views will support his own.

When we first meet Christopher, he appears to be a witty, good-looking and charismatic man. Apart from a slight nerviness, it seems his only social tic appears to be a repeated ‘know what I mean?’ The more often repeated this phrase becomes, the less apparent it seems that anyone does. Robert, significantly more pragmatic than Bruce, is keen to sign Christopher off – he’s even unapologetic about it being for the most obvious of reasons: they need the beds.

The dialogue blisters and blusters at a furious pace – occasionally quicker even than the actors can keep up with (although in McCarthy’s case, this sweetly emphasises his character’s naivety) – and it’s admirably unclear if there’s an easy solution to the problem: each character is at turns entirely sensible and logical, while in the next minute revealing himself to be entirely self-absorbed.

Wilson’s Christopher manages to be focused, yet sprawling, both charming and angry – finding it difficult to comprehend if the taunting voices are in his mind, if he really is being sneered at by local racists, or – as is uncomfortably suggested later – the possibility that both are true. Sometimes, you can be paranoid even if they honestly are out to get you.

Bathurst’s Robert has a charm all of his own, and with it the mildly eccentric air that seems to be the well-earned domain of all aging academics. There’s something of the Bill Nighy in his performance (perhaps not surprising, since that actor played the part in the National Theatre debut) – all seemingly faltering steps and conversational cul-de-sacs, all the while masking a steely hidden agenda. This is a man who vocally, figuratively, and indeed literally, is constantly taking three steps forward while taking two steps back.

McCarthy’s Bruce is nicely underplayed at first, frustrated at the Kafkaesque mountains of paperwork that need to be ploughed through in order to simply help a lost soul finally bubbling over until his yelling umbrage would, if written up out of context, mark him down as a suitable case for treatment.

There’s grim irony in the linking of the two professionals’ names, in that, unlike the historical Robert Bruce, they are entirely unable to agree on the best route to freedom. While there is no easily identifiable hero or villain of the piece, winners and losers are significantly easier to name by the final scene.

While not implicitly an attack on any of the professionals that work in our health service, this play does seek to ask sharply if there is something fundamentally flawed with the service itself, forever stymied by quotas and goverments. And in this much at least, Blue/Orange is not simply black and white.

Performed on Tuesday 18th September 2012 at Theatre Royal in Brighton.

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