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Review: Mental illness, ethics and ethnicity in Blue/Orange, Young Vic

326x326BOThe last time I had to venture back stage, through an extension of the set, to get to my seat at the Young Vic was when Michael Sheen played Hamlet. This time it is for Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange - is it a coincidence that both are set in institutions? Tables and chairs are askew and abandoned from a earlier story to which we weren't party. The only other clues are segments of oranges, peeled and left, perhaps thrown, perhaps dropped.

Christopher (Daniel Kaluuya) is a day away from release from a mental hospital. He thinks his father is Idi Amin and oranges are blue. He's ready to go home but his doctor Bruce Flaherty (Luke Norris) doesn't think he is. He suspects, rather than suffering from delusions and paranoia he is actually schizophrenic and isn't ready to cope on his own. He wants more time to properly diagnose Christopher. He asks his supervisor Dr Robert Smith (David Haig) for his opinion but Smith just wants a bed free.

This three-hander is a tense and darkly funny piece. Flaherty is young, scrupulous and idealistic. Smith is concerned only with promotion, status and maintaining the status quo. Battle lines are drawn with Christopher in the middle.

It is a play about mental health and how we treat those suffering but it is also about ethics and ethnicity, idealism versus reality. Smith is fiercely ambitious doing anything to protect his career path while Smith is unflinchingly righteous in his pursuit of doing his job.

As the disagreement over Christopher release comes to a head so the exchanges between the two doctors become more intense, cutting and ugly. Christopher is a pawn for both to use in their cause but whose cause do his symptoms support?

Daniel Kaluuya's Christopher swings from agitated, aggressive and scared to bubbly, distracted and lethargic. David Haig's Dr Smith moves from convivial and supportive to conniving and fiercely defensive, leaving Luke Norris's Dr Flaherty exacerbated, angry and stubborn.

At first Blue/Orange feels a little laboured but as Christopher's release looms closer the action begins to career towards what must surely be a car crash for all concerned. It is at turns funny and an uncomfortable watch, as the plot twists and turns the tension mounts you almost want to hold your breath.

You can catch it at the Young Vic Theatre until July 2, it's 2 and a half hours with an interval and I'm giving it four stars.