‘It’s a big world in here’ is an apt slogan for The Young Vic, every time I go I’m always excited to see what they’ve done with the performance space. My first visit in 2008 saw the auditorium transformed into a cement factory for Jane Horrocks’s captivating performance in Brecht’s ‘The Good Soul of Szechuan’. With this production the design team at The Young Vic have done it again and the set for Blue/Orange did not disappoint. As we took our seats the walk through the psychiatric ward corridor and waiting room immersed you in the action from the start (Well… I liked it, although the two old ladies I was following with walking difficulties weren’t as complimentary)! It really set the voyeuristic tone that was developed throughout the play, as we were observing a mental patient at their most vulnerable.
The play, first performed in 2000 at the National Theatre, focused on a patient (Christopher) whose diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was the catalyst for a quarrel between two medical professionals. Haig’s belligerent yet bumbling Robert advocated a care in the community approach, whilst Luke Norris’s Bruce pushed for Christopher to receive further treatment at the hospital. With the wave of new writing about government cuts at the moment (Escaped Alone at The Royal Court and Boy at The Almeida are just two that I’ve seen recently) it seems like an appropriate time for a revival of this play. However, I felt the plot didn’t have the sense of subtlety needed for such a weighty topic. This lack of depth stemmed from the fact that the two doctors were so diametrically opposed in their views, which was clearly evident from the start. As a result, despite the sensitive subject matter, I was slightly detached from caring about Christopher’s fate. Although, maybe that was the point of the play?
The performances were powerful and the script did allow the three characters to showcase their acting talents. Daniel Kaluuya was perfect as Christopher, his ability to switch effortlessly from manic and menacing to calm and pensive added a real sense of truthfulness to his performance. During the scenes which featured just the two doctors on stage Christopher’s presence pacing around below the action heightened the feeling of paranoia and panic in his character. The set resembled a boxing ring and enabled Haig and Norris to enact their verbal battle about Christopher’s condition with power and ferocity. Haig’s passive aggressive portrayal of Robert was pitched perfectly and was infuriating for Bruce (and also the watching audience). As the two exchanged blows, the humour of the play became more overt. Towards the end the comic discussion of the Welsh Rarebit effectively highlighted the total deterioration of the pair’s working relationship.
I loved the late 90s and early 00s soundtrack that played before the start and during the interval. I particularly enjoyed singing along to the Destiny’s Child classic ‘Say My Name’! This, along with the mobile phone and reference to the Millennium Dome, did possibly highlight that Blue/Orange is now slightly dated. Whilst the performances were excellent, a more nuanced voice is needed to comment on the state of mental health provision in the NHS at present.