Back to 2016
May 20, 2016 night – Blue/Orange at the Young Vic, London
Reading a sheet of paper warning about real smoke on stage, before the show, made me think how absurd people of a modern audience can be, being upset by it, if this is the reason of putting that note on the box office’s desk. Should actors smoke fake cigarettes instead or just pretend? As I wrote again, some people seem to forget what a stage performance is.
Anyway, smoke is necessary in this play: cigarettes, Coke and coffee are three things Christopher wants but can’t have, because his doctor, Bruce, thinks they would turn his mental situation worse. He offers him water in plastic cups instead.
They are inside a mental hospital and Christopher isn’t getting better after some days and still says oranges are blue, but wants desperately to go home and to get a life, even a girlfriend, as he feels very lonely. So Bruce has just asked his older colleague Robert a consult to see if they can fix the problem together and send him home. But, pretending to help the young man, they make him feel worse and suspicious. They don’t understand the reason for his condition, it’s just a power play between the two doctors for his mental health and their own professional self-esteem.
There isn’t a real explanation for Christopher’s situation, we are not getting to know the truth about his family or why he sees blue oranges, but we learn a lesson about racism and prejudice and the abuse of power that arrogant doctors exert on people.
Blue/Orange is a type of modern play that I tend to appreciate over classic ones for the strong performances with modern language within a simple set design. It’s a brilliant play that rushes up to the end with no pauses, apart from the interval. It’s challenging!
There are only three characters on stage, three different men whose respective appearances are in contrast: two young men/one older, two white men/one black, two doctors/one patient. This diversity creates an interesting dynamics between them.
The cast is really good and perfect for the roles and skillfully directed by Matthew Xia. They play the game moving all the time from a chair to another, discussing, explaining, getting angry, even laughing out load but with no joy and then trying again to negotiate, like if they were boxers in a ring or toreros in a corrida, where Chris seems to me the harassed bull. The square stage at the centre of the theatre suggests this idea.
Daniel Kaluuya plays Christopher in two ways: sometimes cheerful, sometimes scared and desperate, bowing his head on his shoulder like a little kid. This must be the most difficult role to play.
Luke Norris is Bruce, a young polite and respectful man, who wants to make a good impression on his first days at the hospital, but gets easily nervous and screams hysterically when he loses control.
I haven’t heard of these two young actors before I booked for the play, but I really liked their performances. The two key scenes are when Bruce asks Chris to peel an orange and to say what color is inside – the other when Bruce insults Chris and he laughs like Robert suggested to him. It’s like getting a punch in the stomach.
And Robert is a man who totally lacks of modesty: he takes his watch on his right wrist and uses big words to impress the two younger men and has formulated a theory on black people’s background he pretends to be progressive, but which sounds really offensive. David Haig, the most expert element of the cast, is funny for the way he moves and uses his voice, giving emphasis to some words, and sometimes makes it acute. I wanted to see this actor on stage and I wasn’t disappointed.
Blue/Orange was written in 2000, this revival is really amusing and stimulating, I’m still trying to work out its hidden meanings. Another interesting play by Joe Penhall, after Haunted Child.
The play is still on at the Young Vic until the 2nd of July 2016.
Some notes about the staging
The stage by Jeremy Herbert is simple but effective: a square platform, with light blue pavement, armchairs and chairs at the centre and in three corners, a table in the middle and a water dispenser on one side. Two opposite boardwalks connect the stage to the backstage. A bowl of oranges on the table. The colours of the stage remind of the blue of the title. The stage leaves two empty spaces below, where Kaluuya jumps when he goes outside the central platform, like if he’s getting out of a room.
Writer Joe Penhall talks about the play:
Cast and Creatives and their Twitter accounts:
Robert David Haig
Christopher Daniel Kaluuya
Bruce Luke Norris (there’s only a fan site, @)
Writer Joe Penhall
Direction Matthew Xia @
Design Jeremy Herbert
Light Adam Silverman
Sound Carolyn Downing
Movement Joseph Alford
Casting Julia Horan CDG
Young Vic Theatre @youngvictheatre
LINKS & SOURCES
Page on the Young Vic’s site youngvic.org/whats-on/blue-orange