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Written by on November 26, 2021

“Whose thoughts am I thinking?”

Review by Paul Giffney, 24th November 2021

LTR: Christopher (Michael Balogun) awaits a decision between the consultant Robert (Giles Terera) and his attendant, Bruce (Ralph Davis)

Question: How does someone with mental health issues write about the best play they’ve seen about mental health ever without talking about themselves? How does someone explore a play that rips apart the ideas of identity and explores race without feeling personally scrutinised, examined, and opened up?  Answer: They don’t.

This is not a play to go to if you do not want to think. Lighter entertainment was offered upstairs that evening in the Royal and Derngate, but here I was, with other half, ready to watch Joe Penhall’s play, first performed in 2000. I was here to be challenged. To be entertained about mental health. (I am not too sure of how aware of other audience members were of Victorian audiences paying to see the insane of Bedlam centuries ago, but the irony was not lost on me).

This is not an oxymoron. Set in the Blair governmental world of mental health, the play has been expertly brought up to date with the careful direction of Northampton’s own James Dacre, the fantastic efforts of Hazel Holder helping us hear the voices of today’s politics throughout and the lighting design of Charles Balfour to illuminate the starkness of the realities of today’s mental health issues. Oh, and racism issues as well. Oh, and health funding issues as well. Oh, and masculine issues as well. Oh, and… and… and…

I laughed. Not just at the simple baseness of the acts of an insane person but at the wit and piercing execution of all three actors on stage. Three characters on stage: Christopher (Michael Balogun) has been admitted due to an ‘episode’ whilst he was at work. His attendant, Bruce (Ralph Davis) is discussing the case with his senior, the consultant Robert (Giles Terera). The audience watch as language, semantics, identity, and race are openly explored whilst made to feel. No, I didn’t leave an incomplete sentence there, an adjective missing. We felt every emotion possible during this play. When silence happens in an audience as a character explains something, when every word is hung onto – you know you are in the presence of something powerful.

Christopher (Michael Balogun) sits with his thoughts.

When you sit in your seat and think and question things of your own life, of the world around you while totally immersed at the same time as being entertained, well, this is when stagecraft and entertainment has transcended.

I am not going to review the racial issues brought up in this play. I am not going to review the political issues either. I am not well enough equipped for that. Yet. I need more information, beyond that of the play and for this I will be turning back to the foyer (in my mind) where I saw Tre Ventour’s and Chris Lowe’s newly commissioned word film, DEEP-ROUTED. Going online to find the pdf which has references that I can explore deeper. Digging deeper. Later.

Because I want to know now. I no longer can exist in this world where these issues are ignored. And that is thanks to three people on a stage who explored every nuance perfectly, where the speech patterns of the senior consultant echoed exactly the words of a public racist and where, reflectively, I ended up thankful for the health service of this country and for being white in it.

LTR: Bruce (Ralph Davis) talks about the future of Christopher (Michael Balogun) with his senior Robert (Giles Terera).

I cannot empathise with another person who is of a different race to me having to explore their own mental health issues. But this play can, and has, made me sympathise with every fibre of my being with someone in this position and I am now wanting needing to know more. Thank you to every person involved, but especially to Balogun, Davis and Terera who must perform this emotionally powerful play on a regular basis. It has marked me and will sit in my mind for some time to come. I cannot select any individual scene, speech, or performance. That reduces it to a play. This was an immersive experience that will change you and one that I highly recommend you seeing if you can.

Five stars

Blue / Orange plays at the Royal and Derngate until December 4th – buy your ticket here. Now!

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