“They see what they want to see, not what they really see”
I seem to be surrounded by people who saw and loved the original production of Blue/Orange, with its extremely tasty cast of Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and who love to tell me about it! It was however before my time (here in London at least) and so my first, and only, previous experience of the show was with Tiata Fahdozi’s all-female version at the old Arcola, with a less starry but no less interesting cast of Helen Schlesinger, Esther Hall and Ayesha Antoine.
I mention this because it is interesting to me the ways in which people’s journeys with plays are shaped by these interactions, especially when they have been lauded as modern classics. Of the eight, only two are going back to this new production at the Young Vic (it doesn’t seem to be inspiring repeat visits), and the one who has been already didn’t like it. And critics’ responses thus far stretch from Aleks Sierz reconfirming its status as a contemporary classic to Matt Trueman declaring that it hasn’t aged well.
So what to make of all of this. I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy Blue/Orange second time around, having been a little disappointed first time too. That time it was partly about expectation not being met but this time, I’m still a little hard-pressed to articulate why Matthew Xia’s production left me cold. It’s attractively and inventively designed by Jeremy Herbert but the play left me unengaged, its credulity feeling overstretched as two white doctors argue for well over two hours over whether a black patient is ready to be discharged.
The quality cast – David Haig, Luke Norris and Daniel Kaluuya – all seem to have their acting dials turned up to 12, it all just feels a bit over the top. And its debates don’t quite feel connected to the world as it stands today – racism obviously still exists but more nuanced than how it is presented here, and the beleaguered NHS and now-defunct New Labour project occupy an entirely difference space than when Penhall was writing. Is it a classic for our time or a period piece? Are they blue or are they orange? I really couldn’t tell you…