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Review: The Colours, Soho Theatre - quiet ordinariness is this play's secret power

Harriet Madeley's The Colours is a verbatim play based on interviews with people with life-limiting illnesses and those working in palliative care.

Morfydd Clark and Mark Knightley in The Colours: Photo: Hannah Anketell

While researching the play, Madeley herself was diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting illness but rather than fraught emotional meaning-of-life drama this a piece of quiet ordinariness - which is its secret power. 

It starts in darkness projecting the audience by way of a soundscape to the seaside but what it is, in reality, is a therapy session at a Welsh hospice.

Sands of time

Sand is a physical motif throughout. It represents the shoreline, the beach from patients' therapy sessions but also the flowing sands of time as seen from the bucket at the back of the stage.

We are introduced to two cancer patients and another with motor neurone disease, getting snatches of their conversations with family, doctors and their thoughts through diagnosis, initial treatments and then palliative care.

The tone, for want of a better comparison, is like animation series Creature Comforts which is voiced by ordinary people.

Che Francis in The Colours. Photo: Hannah Anketell

And that isn't to render The Colours to like a Nick Park cartoon but rather is similarly captures the matter-of-factness of everyday life and ordinary people.

Their diagnoses are a part of their living, part of the day today.

Yes, there is a certain amount of reassessing what is important but it is done through reminiscence and without bold statements or lecture.

The cast wears headphones but it wasn't until I was reading the notes afterwards that I realised why. Doh. 

The cast of The Colours. Photo: Hannah Anketell

They hear the original interviews presumably to keep the performances on point.

If you are sitting close to the front you can just about hear the voices which I confess I found a little irritating as I couldn't locate the origin and thought it was coming from backstage. 

How much would the performance be affected if done without?

Morfydd Clark, Claire Marie-Hall and Mark Knightley in The Colours. Photo: Hannah Anketell

Headsets aside, The Colours lack of high drama and overwrought emotions actually makes it a powerful celebration of the ordinary things in life and a lesson in embracing the simple pleasures. 

The Colours is at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until August 17 and is 85 minutes without an interval.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

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