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.