Giles Terera, Michael Balogun and Ralph Davis
037 – Blue/Orange, by Joe Penhall
In Joe Penhall’s explosive and unsettling play, Blue/Orange, we are asked to observe and judge an extended debate between two psychiatrists who differ on their diagnosis and treatment of a young patient who is apparently experiencing delusions that may be symptomatic of paranoid schizophrenia. The patient believes, for example, that he is one of former Ugandan President Idi Amin’s 43 children, which although it sounds implausible, is not impossible. However, his conviction that the oranges in a bowl in the consultation room are blue proves more problematic.
The debate between the two doctors is anything but straightforward. It is complicated and clouded by their relative status and personal ambitions, as well as their own racial identity and assumptions. The disturbed young man who is their patient finds himself a pawn in what becomes an increasingly bitter and personal power struggle between the professionals.
Blue/Orange premiered at the National Theatre in April 2000 and transferred for a six-month run in London’s West End a year later, winning the Evening Standard Best Play award, as well as both the Critics Circle and Laurence Olivier Awards for Best New Play. The play addresses issues that remain as topical today as when it was first written, including the uncertainties and dangers around the diagnosis of mental illness, the latent racial prejudices that can distort our judgements, and the pernicious inflections of hierarchical power in inter-personal relationships. As we record this episode, it is being revived in a new production co-produced by the Royal and Derngate theatre in Northampton, the Oxford Playhouse and the Theatre Royal Bath, where it will tour to all three theatres in November 2021.
I am delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by James Dacre, the Artistic Director of the Royal and Derngate theatre, and the director of the new production, and by the playwright Joe Penhall himself.
Joe Penhall is acclaimed as both a playwright and screen writer, having written a dozen plays, including Some Voices, Pale Horse, Dumb Show and Birthday, all for the Royal Court Theatre, as well as more recently Mood Music at the Old Vic and the musical Sunny Afternoon, which he wrote with Ray Davies of the Kinks and which won four Olivier Awards in 2015. His screen writing credits include the films from the novels Enduring Love and The Road, and the TV series Moses Jones and Mindhunter.
Joe recommended Downstate by Bruce Norris
James Dacre has been the Artistic Director of the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton since 2013. The Royal & Derngate is one of our outstanding regional theatres, commissioning and co-producing a consistently successful steam of new work that regularly tours and reaches the West End. Recent productions include TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, Alone in Berlin, The Worst Witch, Touching the Void, and The Lovely Bones. James himself has directed world premieres of adaptations of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, as well as Roy Williams’ Soul and Arthur Miller’s The Hook, as well as a diverse catalogue of other new and classic titles.
Before the Royal & Derngate, James directed shows at numerous of our best regional and London theatres, including Manchester Royal Exchange, The New Vic, Theatre Royal Bath, the Traverse, Trafalgar Studios and Shakespeare’s Globe, among others. James started directing at Cambridge and then won a fellowship to train at Columbia University in New York.
James recommended Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall
The Footnotes to our episode on Blue/Orange include some further thoughts on the significance of the slightly awkward back slash in the title of the play.
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Photo by Helen Murray.
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