REVIEW ROUNDUP: Final few shows of fantastic character dramas

REVIEW ROUNDUP: Final few shows of fantastic character dramas

SHOWS: ‘Blue/Orange’ & ‘Cock’
Review: Peter Tromp

Virtually every character drama worth its salt has a major power struggle at its core. To have the Baxter production ‘Blue/Orange’ and the Alexander Bar’s ‘Cock’ playing in the city at the same time is to feel truly spoilt as a theatregoer. Both are fantastic, edge of your seat plays, with characters relentlessly going at each other in order to ultimately get their way. The way each has been executed on the stage has made these last two weeks exhilarating for theatregoers. (Go forth and book for both shows now, because there are only a few performances left of each. Both shows end on Saturday.)

Blue/Orange’ provides a whole new spin on the term “psychological thriller”. Taking place within a psychiatric ward of an English mental health institution, it features two mental health practitioners – Andrew Buckland’s supervising psychiatrist, Robert, and Nicholas Pauling’s junior analyst, Bruce – embroiled in a battle of wills over how to treat a contentious patient of African origin, Marty Kintu’s Christopher, who displays signs of borderline schizophrenia when he professes to be the illegitimate son of Idi Amin. Christopher becomes like the ball in the game of diagnostic ping pong between the two white professionals as each tries to exert his conclusions on this mystifying individual.

In Mike Bartlett’s ‘Cock’ that table tennis ball is Francis Chouler’s meek spirited (and quite maddeningly indecisive) John, who is the object of affection of his long-term boyfriend, M, (played by Matt Newman), as well as new girlfriend, W (Melissa Haiden). John, although
professedly a gay man, can’t quite seem to shake off the hold that this new woman in his life has on him, which ultimately puts severe strain on his complex relationship of several years with his male partner. With pressure mounting on John from both sides to choose which partner he wants to share his future with, the play resolves itself in the tensest and most psychologically fraught dinner engagement since ‘Festen’ – with all parties pulling no punches – except John.
Both dramas are rivetingly staged – ‘Blue/Orange’ by Clare Stopford, delivering perhaps her best work in my time as a critic; and ‘Cock’ by Paul Griffiths. The latter production has you seated so closed to the actors that you can almost feel the energy coursing between them – heart pounding stuff!

Both plays feature memorable performances across the board, but none more so than Buckland in ‘Blue/Orange’, who delivers without question his best work in Cape Town since his nominated turn in Lara Foot’s production of Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ nearly ten years ago; and Haiden in ‘Cock’, who has slowly, but assuredly transformed into a confident actress with a pulling power all her own.

* Blue/Orange’ is showing at the Baxter Studio. Book at Computicket.
‘Cock’ is showing at the Alexander Upstairs Theatre. Book at shows.alexanderbar.co.za, or at the bar.