Blue/Orange

Previewed 7 April 2000, Opened 13 April 2000, Closed 23 August 2000 (in repertory) at the NT Cottesloe Theatre
Previewed 24 April 2001, Opened 30 April 2001, Closed 15 December 2001 at the Duchess Theatre

The West End Premiere of the National Theatre's production of Joe Penhall's acclaimed new play. In a London mental hospital, an enigmatic patient claims to be the son of an exiled African dictator. As the drama unfolds, his story becomes unnervingly plausible. An incendiary tale about race, madness and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of a dying NHS.

This production was presented 'in-the-round' - when it transferred to the West End, the entire ground floor (stalls) and proscenium stage area was completely re-configured to allow for the 'in-the-round' staging.

The original Cottesloe and West End Duchess Theatre cast (up to Saturday 18 August 2001) featured Chiwetel Ejiofor as 'Christopher', Andrew Lincoln as 'Bruce' and Bill Nighy as 'Robert'. The cast from Monday 20 August 2001 featured Shaun Parkes as 'Christopher', Neil Stuke 'as Bruce' and David Threlfall as 'Robert'. Directed by Roger Michell with designs by William Dudley, lighting by Rick Fisher and sound by Neil Alexander.

The following information is based on a study of 450 people with mental health problems carried out in February 2000 by the National Schizophrenia Fellowship: African-caribbean males are 12 times more likely to receive a schizophrenia diagnosis than white males. 88% of black respondents had been detained under a section of the Mental Health Act compared with 43% of white respondents 72% of black respondents had been forcibly restrained compared with 39% of white respondents. Of those diagnosed with schizophrenia, 100% of black and 71% of Asian respondents have been admitted into hospital under a complusory section of the Mental Health Act, compared to 58% of white respondents. The National Schizophrenia Fellowship does not accept that any individual ethnic group has greater inherent susceptibility to severe mental illness than any other groups.

"A year after electrifying audiences at the National Theatre, Joe Penhall's riveting, award-winning play about schizophrenia and rival psychiatrists has crossed the river. Roger Michell's superb production has retained not only its original cast but also its original edge... William Dudley's diamond-shaped arena has been transposed to the Duchess with only a slight loss of the cockpit atmosphere at the National. Some of the audience sit beyond the actors, who play 'in the round'. But the performances are as compelling and extraordinary as ever... You will argue into the night about the play, and possibly the curious, wound-up freneticism of the acting. But you will have had a unique experience and superb entertainment." The Daily Mail

"Joe Penhall has the rare gift of engaging both emotion and intellect and making you care desperately about the outcome. Roger Michell's in-the-round production transfers physically very well to the transformed Duchess, but two of the performances have become dangerously hyperactive in the move. Instead of allowing Robert's cool upper-class assurance gradually to disintegrate, Bill Nighy now gives us an assemblage of nervous tics, including spinning on his heel, puffing out his cheeks and running his hands through his hair. And Andrew Lincoln's Bruce also falls victim to the American belief that restless movement and staccato speech equal dramatic energy. The text is strong enough to allow both actors to calm down a little and let the words do more of the work. Fortunately, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Christopher has lost none of the controlled intensity he had at the National." The Guardian

"Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange, the most exciting new play of last year, has arrived, from the National Theatre, at the Duchess, every bit as "now" as Feelgood in its feelbad, shocking, brilliant way... The give-and-take between these three actors is exceptional; I would guess that each performance is quite different. Just in terms of its brilliant range and control of dynamics, Blue/Orange is superb drama. You are sustained by the energy and skill of the actors and Penhall's dialogue from first to last, and you attend with your heart in your mouth." The Financial Times

"Blue/Orange turns out to be a full-scale contest, a battle of minds, in which a consultant psychiatrist and his young registrar, passionately slug it out in argument over whether to release the young African, Christopher, who has been hospitalised with symptoms apparently bordering on the psychotic. This case rings alarm bells. It relates to public concern about schizophrenics and other sorts of deranged people who have murdered or attacked strangers after being released to so-called care in the community. How do psychiatrists assess who should be freed and on what basis of certainty? Blue/Orange does not directly answer such questions. Joe Penhall contrasts the necessarily unscientific methods of two white shrinks struggling to understand a black man from a different culture. A discomforting comedy, streaked with excitement and emotion, is created in Roger Michell's stylish production. Interest teeters on a knife edge of suspense: until the final scenes of irritating caricature when the psychiatrists lose their professional balance and cool, with the furious registrar virtually breaking down and the consultant exulting in his power, Penhall scrupulously gives both men a case. The state of Christopher's mind remains mistily unclear. The audience plays the role of umpire. Bill Nighy's hip and sympathetic, Laingian-inspired consultant is eager to save Christopher from being institutionalised and to prevent any black man's symptoms of alienation and loneliness from being diagnosed as psychoses. Andrew Lincoln's obstinate registrar wants to keep Christopher hospitalised to protect him from himself. Penhall's ironic conclusion leaves you brooding." The London Evening Standard

Blue/Orange in London at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre previewed from 7 April 2000, opened on 13 April 2000 and closed on 23 August 2000 (in repertory), transferred to the West End's Duchess Theatre previewed from 24 April 2001, opened on 30 April 2001 and closed on 15 December 2001