Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Blue/Orange

Joe Penhall
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
(2005)

Roger Lloyd Pack in Blue/Orange

We come into the dark grey Crucible thrust stage, enlivened only by four or five chairs, two tables, one holding a bowl of oranges, naturally, and a water fountain at the edge of the stage. Two doors at the back lead, as we find out, to a waiting room and to the rest of the psychiatric hospital where black African Christopher is a detained patient coming to the end of his 28 days admission for assessment.

Christopher and Bruce, a young Birmingham accented, I think, junior doctor, are discussing his recent problems and his pending discharge. Christopher's quick wit and capacity to recall rermarks made earlier put him in a powwerful position, although some of his behaviour seems to be interpreted by the audience as evidence of madness, something to be laughed at. The arrival of the Senior Consultant, responsible for the care of Christopher through the activities of his junior, suggest that their relationship is odd, having been drunk together after going to a football match and dinner provided by Bruce's wife.

The conversations that ensue, conducted at a cracking pace, demonstrate the fluctuating power levels between the black African patient, the somewhat dishevelled but well-meaning junior doctor, and the suave, Maudsley-trained psychiatrist. The patient insists on leaving hospital, Bruce is exceptionally cautious believing him to be more at risk than either Christopher or the consultant appear to believe.

The power struggle continues to the end; who wins?

Jimmy Akingbola, the patient, has the right mixture of confidence, doubt and at times, downright misery as he portrays someone caught up in an unfamiliar system, receiving inconsistent advice, and bewildered by the medication with its side effects. The other pole of the power struggle, Roger Lloyd Pack, the Senior Consultant, shows his confidence, his superiority and also his weak crannies in his struggle to reach even higher in the academic hierarchy. Shaun Evans is the one whose uncertainty and doubt does not really fit the facts. He is supposed to be junior, but how junior - he must have been a doctor for at least two or three years, and more if it is true that he is looking for a consultant post at this hospital.

As a psychiatrist, I have to say that I am worried if we are reverting to the old time visits to Bedlam, to watch patients demonstrating their madness and distress. Many of the aspects of the play rang true, though I hope psychiatrists still avoid the F word when addressing their patients, or even each other. The power struggles could just as well have been portrayed at a school, a police station, or even at a theatre.

"Blue Orange" plays at the Crucible until 26th February, and then goes on to Northampton, Brighton and Cambridge.

Reviewer: Philip Seager