For such a colourfully titled show, Canoe Theatre’s Blue/Orange is set in a blandly sterile consultation room, illuminated by fluorescent lights. The audience is placed in the round – except it’s not round, but quadrilateral, perhaps reflecting the rigidly technocratic themes of the story. The technocracy in this case is the British healthcare system, and its inherent problems in trying to cater for a large population by compromising individual cases.
Christopher is a young Afro-Caribbean man who has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital; he is about to be released, but his psychiatrist Bruce invites senior consultant Robert to weigh in on Bruce’s suspicions that Christopher is not ready. Things turn ugly when Robert, who lusts after a professorship, takes a research interest in Christopher’s case. Robert believes that Chris’ schizophrenia is caused by his Afro-Caribbean ethnicity, who do not necessarily see the latter’s deviant behaviour as such – which is entirely racist when you remember that Chris grew up in London, and parodies many blinkered academics’ allegedly ‘progressive’ ideas.
Craig Pinder is profoundly frustrating as the conservative, outrageously dishonest Robert, especially when his character is clearly a satire of real-life stereotypes. Simon Mokhele, making his professional stage debut, plays Christopher with both a blurred demeanour and a clear-sighted courage, succumbing to Robert’s enticing lies without losing our sympathy. But it is Matthew Bulgo who really concludes the show; the rate at which his Bruce’s motivations change, and the diversity of these motivations really flesh out a three-dimensional character caught in the sticky web of a corrupted bureacracy, broken trust, and selfishness.
Canoe Theatre’s Blue/Orange is a deeply resonant and eye-opening experience; enter the show knowing you’ll be confronted with questions about the way society and institutions deal with mental illness, bureaucracy and racism at large.