Review: Blue/Orange at Birmingham Rep – ‘’wonderfully angry…”

Richard Lutz watches a twenty year old play that is still relevant, still sharp about race and medicine


You enter The Rep wondering how a  play from the year 2000 about race and mental health will hold up. Two decades is a lot of temporal water under the bridge.

Blue/Orange still carries a punch: a sojourn into how two doctors (white) argue over the fate of a young black patient in a psychiatric unit. Chris (played by Ivan Oyik, as above) has been admitted for 28 days’ observation after a street incident in South London. Senior doctor Robert wants to discharge him to “his community”. Young doctor Bruce says he need more medical attention. Chris just wants to go home.

But what is home? It turns out he is alone, doesn’t know where his parents are, frightened, hears voices and is clearly ill and paranoid. He even  hinks his father is tyrant Idi Amin and that an orange is blue (hence the title). The elder doctor’s decision is tinged with racism and the hope of using Chris’s appalling future as meat for his next book. His younger colleague is angry that so many Afro-Caribbean men are being admitted with no ability to treat them all.

Besides the three superior jobs of acting in this verbal boxing match (it can stand very well as a radio play), what is apparent to the audience, which filled the large Rep Theatre, was that, sadly, not much has changed. Mental health issues among the young black population in Britain is a crisis, one that a specialist recently called “a dirty secret”. And Liam Neeson’s stupid interview to promote his next movie didn’t do much to show that there still is the stain of racism and distrust  in a white world.

The script by Joe Penhall (The Last King Of Scotland/The Road) is sharp – written in acid and anger. Oyik, still a theatre student, grabs the spotlight whenever he filters the doctors’ arch comments to find out just what they mean as street life crashes into high minded professional chitchat. It’s a wonderful and angry play.

Until 16th February. Tickets