Sean Taylor, Ian Meadows and Darian Nkono in Joe Penhall's BLUE ORANGE
Sean Taylor, Ian Meadows and Darian Nkono in Joe Penhall’s BLUE ORANGE. Pics Clare Hawley

Psychiatry is surely the most nebulous and volatile of all the chosen medical careers and the gravity of the profession played a substantial part in the extensive media coverage during our recent Mental Health Week.

English playwright Joe Penhall takes an adventurous leap into the complexities of psychiatry and mental health in his multi-award winning play, BLUE/ORANGE.

The underlying seriousness of the play is counterpointed by Penhall’s clever humour, – his ability to use razor-sharp wit and exotic ideas to keep one step ahead of his audience.

Director Anna Crawford, (with the help of assistant director Jo-Anne Cahill, a wonderful production team and outstanding cast of actors), has created an energetic and balanced production, containing all the elements of raw emotion, perplexity, humour and neuroses, enabling the audience to ponder, – who’s mad and who’s sane?

Crawford said, “Mental illness is one illness that you can’t do a blood test for”, and she added, “It’s bunching together a bunch of symptoms, but what if the diagnosis is wrong?”

Young black Londoner, Christopher, played with wonderfully erratic and charismatic energy by Dorian Nkono, was arrested and sectioned to a psychiatric hospital for a month following an ‘incident’ at his local market. On his 27th day, he is excited and has packed his bags. The young and theory-driven psychiatrist, Bruce, played with great passion by Ian Meadows, has doubts about Christopher’s return home to his White City flat, especially when Christopher tells him the orange he has peeled is blue and has an almost plausible story that his father is Idi Amin.

Supervising consultant, Robert, played brilliantly by Sean Taylor, with enigmatic presence and impeccable comedy timing, swans into the room with his cavalier optimism and wonderful command of the English language. Robert nevertheless has a darker underlying cynicism.

Robert contradicts and patronises Bruce, believing that Christopher is ready to return home or he may end up institutionalised. He also suggests that this could be a case of ‘ethnocentric misdiagnosis’ where blacks outnumber whites in the mental hospitals. Racism and mental health are questioned.

Bruce feels Christopher should be re-sectioned for further analysis, in particular, for schizophrenia, as opposed to Robert’s suggestion of borderline personality disorder.

This battle of opinions reaches absurd heights to the point where we’re wondering if Christopher is the most sane of the three.

The set design by Tobhiyah Stone Feller is a wonderful, large white, ‘ink blot’ shaped structure on the back wall, with a circle like an egg yolk in the centre. Lighting designer Christopher Page has collaborated with Feller with wonderful results. The blot and circle change colour and the audience can read into the resulting images.

BLUE/ORANGE is a stimulating and highly enjoyable play. Anna Crawford’s production of Joe Penhall’s play  is on at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, until Saturday 29th November, 2014.

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