Richard Lintern as Robert, Ivan Oyik as Christopher and Thomas Coombes as Bruce.. Pictures: Myah Jeffers


Birmingham Rep


Joe Penhall’s play, Blue/Orange first appeared in 2000 and was instantly acclaimed for its sharp and incisive dissection, of institutionalised health care and those who work within it. 

It sets out to examine a world of compassion and care set against, career and ambition and the effect of race in society within the issues of mental health. Just three actors pack so much content into the performance that it is impossible to not create open debate over any one of its complex layers.

Christopher is a young Black male who after a police incident has been given a 28 day section 2 and is now on the eve of his release. However two male clinicians have different views on his well-being and indeed his future fate.

The first is Bruce, a young doctor with limited experience having only been in the job a short time. To him Christopher clearly has issues that he cannot rationalise and ultimately his lack of experience and enthusiasm to save him from his condition, has him believe that Christopher should not be released and needs further help.

Robert, though, the second doctor holds a different view. With a lifetime of work behind him he has the ability to see the wider complexities of incarceration and the financial and operational pressures of the NHS he works for.

Yet his battle-hardened approach to mental health medicine is possibly becoming overshadowed by his ambition to be recognised as a professor.


Tasting oranges, newcomer Ivan Oyik excels as the troubled patient, Christopher

Penhall’s skill here is to get you to like and dislike all of his characters. As the dialogue shifts through the complex issue of Christopher’s case, both for and against, Christopher himself also seems able to manipulate the situation.

Is his illness real or is he just toying with the situation randomly changing his symptoms at will, taxing both of the Doctors professional patience?

Richard Lintern in his long standing role as the forensic expert Dr Chamberlain in the long running TV series Silent Witness, certainly has given him the stature and command as the career minded Robert, a man at the top of his professional game.

He has a casual mastery of the part and effortlessly and eloquently argues his view as someone who has seen it all. To Robert it’s a job, he is in control and his steely approach to working within the sector and an understanding of its limitations makes his take on Christopher’s condition seem plausible.

Lintern was truly convincing though when Roberts’s arguments were shot through with Christopher’s changing delusions. Was he letting familiarity and ambition getting in the way of a more caring diagnosis?

On the other hand Bruce is a young man, new to the profession and Thomas Coombes in the part skilfully leads his character from the seemingly assured observation of Christopher, to that of a man ravaged by increasing anger and complete lack of control. This change is effected when his blossoming career looks set to be terminated by the wile of Robert and the complaining statements of Christopher himself over Bruce’s conduct during his 28 day treatment.

In his first major role Ivan Oyik did a fantastic job as Christopher. There was no sign of his lack of stage experience especially in the scenes with the highly experienced Lintern. He created genuine sympathy for a young man who was on the verge of being trapped by the system, yet highlighting the challenges and issues of his colour, abuse and life outside of the hospital walls.

Whilst it’s all a serious subject there was humour especially when the ridicule of the lofty professional arguments were punctuated by the basic street comments of Christopher. If the play was a reflection of the complexities of all it represented in the year 2000, then its mirror of observation is even more polished and clearer today. Penhall may have pushed his characters to the extreme to make a point, but it’s a worth doing to dramatically spark the conversation.

Daniel Bailey’s direction is sharp and lenient and successfully manages to balance the issues raised with his superb trio of players. It’s a play that will make you think, talk and debate but ultimately one that contains performances that you will engage you throughout. T0 16-02-19

Jeff Grant


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