Blue/Orange, Young Vic, 18 May 2016
The Young Vic’s production of Joe Penahll’s Blue/Orange seems a timely revival about institutional racism and the NHS.
Luke Norris (A View from a Bridge, Young Vic) stars as Bruce, a newly employed doctor at a mental health hospital in London, in charge of the mentally unstable Christopher, a young black man played by Daniel Kaluuya. Bruce doesn’t believe Christopher is well enough to go home, Christopher believes he does and Robert, Bruce’s supervisor Robert (David Haig) has beds to think of.
The staging was problematic, set in the round it is rarely played as such. It is a piece that should feel claustrophobic but director Matthew Xia and designer Jeremy Herbert have made the audience feel as distant from the action as possible and it alienates the relationship the audience and the production has. There is also a really unnecessary pre-set, which will be familiar to anyone who saw Michael Sheen’s Hamlet in 2011. It is pointless and delays the production by 10 minutes plus a problem which meant myself and another audience member had the same ticket.
The stand out is Kaluuya as Christopher, who has really matured as an actor and plays a mental health patient without stereotype. It is hard to warm to Christopher but you can warm to him being used a pawn by Bruce and Robert. I am not sure if I liked Norris and Haig’s performances, it felt like it needed to be far subtle. Norris gave off Frank Grimes’ from The Simpsons vibes and Haig was his usual shouty, terrible in Ben Elton sitcoms way. In calmer moments, such as his two hander with Kaluuya , Haig can be engaging yet subtle actor but his hysteria never comes across as realistic.
The issue is that the play feels like two very different halves, the second has meaning, it is a devastating analysis of mental health treatment and institutional racism but the first half is meandering and only really comes together when Kaluuya is on stage.
It is a play with a lot of potential, its sheer number of revivals since its first production in 2000 show that but this isn’t strong enough or even subtle enough for the intricacies of the material.