5 Min Read

A Moral Investigation: BLUE/ORANGE

Presented by THEATRE 180, BLUE/ORANGE is a raw and intense piece with an anachronistic edge. This story, written by Joe Penhall over two decades ago, has sadly not aged. The themes are still relevant in 2022 and give an important perspective on a healthcare system that is currently obsessed with the pandemic.

Poised as an ethical dilemma, the narrative centres around the institutionalisation of a black man, Christopher, in the UK’s National Health Service. Two doctors debate between releasing him. One argues he may remain a risk to himself or society, the other wants to close a bureaucratic loop; letting him out into the community after the mandatory period is up. Questions are raised into how well the community has served him and if that same community sent him to the psychiatric ward in the first place. The morality of the debate, however, takes an unexpected and brilliant turn towards the concept of institutionalisation.

BLUE/ORANGE photography by Stewart Thorpe. 

As Christopher, a man kept in psychiatric care involuntarily but on the brink of freedom, Tinashe Mangwana delivers a multi-tonal performance. Jarryd Dobson plays the young doctor, Bruce, with a rawness that makes the viewer sympathise with his character. Andrew Lewis as the senior doctor Robert, portrays great confidence in his character that is so easy to hate with his composure and pretentious taste. As various ethical dilemmas unravel, the viewer is constantly torn between whose side to take. The system is the fourth character, leaving no obvious choice on which person to direct your blame towards.

BLUE/ORANGE photography by Stewart Thorpe. 

Director Stuart Halusz, has added slow-motion action into the play that creates moments of transition within this intense story. It illustrates how centric and all-consuming mental health issues can be, magnifying everything in our vicinity. From a storytelling perspective, it provides a pathway through the conversation, giving the viewer a sense of time passing. 

As the story progresses, questions unfold in a casing of subtly modernised language in an era of diversity and inclusion. Person-first language and terms such as “wellness” give hints of an updated script. However, the use of props such as a Nokia phone remind the viewer of the temporal origins of this story. The intertwinement of these elements is what brings the aforementioned anachronistic quality to the production.

BLUE/ORANGE photography by Stewart Thorpe. 

In the round staging allows the audience to see all 4 sides. It facilitates the idea that wherever you sit, you get a different viewpoint on each character’s life, reminding the audience there is always more than 1 side to everyone’s story. It also provides an ideal framework to analyse the complexities of each character.

The metal framing of the small 9 sq metre stage gives the setting a cold and clinical edge and emphasises the feeling of being locked up. One audience member, in the post-show Q&A, likened it to a boxing ring with heavy weights going at it. This observation made me think of the story as a montage of social justice.

BLUE/ORANGE photography by Stewart Thorpe. 

Neil Sheriff’s attention to detail on the set was exquisite, and keen observers may have noticed that the box of the set is repeated in the tables in the middle of the room. The brightest item in the room is the oranges on the table. There were subtle references to Damian Hurst with silk packaged cigarettes. This illustrates the notion that reality is an environment of your own construction that you cannot fundamentally escape even if you want to. All the characters are trapped in the institution.

The light strips on the metal frames encasing the roof of the set gave a dehumanising feel. The orange and blue lighting from the perimeter of the audience cast a subtle glow into the set without compromising the clinical feel of it all. Garry Ferguson expertly executed the mood of this story with this luminosity.

The eerie industrial sounds resemble the droning hums of machinery. Noah Ivulich does an excellent job offsetting the raw emotion of the performances with these sounds.

BLUE/ORANGE photography by Stewart Thorpe. 

The institutionalisation of people of colour remains poignant in the Black Lives Matter era. Whether it’s aboriginal deaths in custody or the involuntary admission of people of colour, it’s all a manifestation of the injustices they face daily. However, this show shines the light on the other side of this bias, putting practitioners in the industry under analysis.

Bruce is desperate to lay more diagnoses and enforce even harsher involuntary admissions through legal means onto his patient, Christopher. His attempts to further his own career at the cost of a black man’s autonomy is a chilling truth in the medical profession. However, this criticism laid on him by his mentor, Robert, is not a noble defence of social justice. Robert’s own intentions to use Christopher as a subject in his research manifests another example of how progress by white medical professionals can come at the cost of marginalised people.

BLUE/ORANGE is on now at Burt Hall and runs to September 3.

This play discusses issues around Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Suicide and sexual references.

Lifeline 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

Headspace: 1800 650 850 or headspace.org.au

13YARN: 13 92 7