A serving of tasty fruit

Diagnosis: Bruce (Gerard McCarthy), the doctor. Robert (Robert Bathurst) the all mighty consultant and Chris (Oliver Wilson) the patient

Blue Orange

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

THERE is nothing unusual about plays about madness but Blue Orange is not so much about madness but the madness that surrounds madness in a budget and bed conscious NHS with its management meetings and committees.

The play was first performed in 2000 and in this revival writer Joe Penhall says in the programme that there has been steady progress in the treatment of mental illness but “in terms of resources it still is and always will be stretched.”

Chris, even to someone who has no psychiatric training whatsoever, is hardly the full shilling. Even without telling people his father is Idi Amin or Mohammed Ali, or that oranges are blue, he would be seen on the wrong side of normal.

He is played with a manic intensity by Oliver Wilson, at time euphoric about leaving the psychiatric ward where he has been sectioned, at times angry at perceived and suggested slights, at times in despair about leaving or who he is asking for space and time to think.

Treating him, in his first month in the job is Bruce, who does not believe Chris is cured and wants to keep him longer to deal with what he believes is schizophrenia. Gerard McCarthy's Bruce is intense, caring and desperate to help his patient but as the Kafkaesque layers of authority unfold he becomes more and more frustrated and angry at a system where the patient is the last consideration.

INDIFFERENCE

His boss, who does not want to upset the authorities and those above him by spending time and resources and taking up a bed with Chris, is Robert, played with the infuriating indifference of the worst sort of hospital consultant by Robert Bathurst.

His main interest in Chris is to send him home, wherever that is, have a community nurse call on him but to have him back as an out-patient. The feeling is that these outpatient appointments are not for Chris's benefit but to complete a chapter's in Robert's book finding a cure for mental illness in Afro-Caribbeans which would earn him money, fame and the thing, he covets most, a Professorship.

So with Robert undermining Bruce and manipulating Chris and Chris led by whoever spoke to him last while Bruce is trying to do his best for Chris then finding they are both doomed. Bruce is heading to lose his job having clashed with Robert while Chris is doomed to a life of madness being sent out into a world where he has no home or friends, hears voices and sees visions,, and, as Bruce knows will not take the meds that can help him. A defeated  Bruce tries damage limitation without success leaving him with one option - play the game to the rules he has be    en taught.

It is a serious subject and is covered with sensitivity held together by some deliciously dark black humour from Robert who sees Chris's relationship to normality as “occasionally visits but doesn't live there and can add any suffix to Chris's BPD, Borderline Personality Disorder, to suit any argument. BPD with paranoia, BPD with psychosis, with delusions – given a bit longer we might even have had BPD with chips as dinner time approached.

The result is a play which is disturbing. At first you are detached but slowly you are drawn into the web spun by Robert where the patient and his treatment are secondary to another agenda and, what is worse, you can't quite put your finger on what that other agenda is even though it appears to have been spelt out.

Colin Falconer's design is clean, modern chrome and white leather with walls of glass – 21st century hospital personified while Christopher Luscombe's direction keeps a firm hold on what could easily develop into rants and a shouting match. A high quality cast and a play that makes you think and leaves you a little uneasy that it might be a little too close to the truth. This is another Ambassador Theatre Group production, owners of the Alex, through the Theatre Royal Brighton, another of their theatres as the encouraging renaissance of the Alex continues. To 27-10-12

Roger Clarke

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