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Joe Penhalls gripping 2000 play about three men in a
The attending psychiatrist is Bruce (John Simm), a young, new doctor who wants to extend the patients stay, believing him to be schizophrenic. Particularly troubling for Bruce is the fact that Chris has begun insisting that oranges are blue and that he is Idi Amins son. Despite those new developments, the senior consultant, Robert (Brian Cox), wants to release the patient and warns that keeping him in the hospital too long might make a return to normal life impossible. He also wonders about the role of race in the diagnosis of black patients.
An additional factor in the doctors argument about Chris is the government policy of de-institutionalizing mental patientstreating them with drugs on an outpatient basis. In
Like the original play, this adaptation reveals the cynicism behind de-institutionalization, but goes beyond a simple critique of that policy. Chriss borderline status precludes any easy answers and Robert points out the real stigma the patient will endure if he is diagnosed with schizophrenia:
Its not treated with some glamorous and intriguing wonder-drug like Prozac or Viagra. . . They make movies about junkies, alcoholics, gangsters . . . But schizophrenia, my friend, is just not in the phone book.
For his part, Chris observes the increasingly ugly battle between
his doctors, which confuses him and intensifies his paranoia. Bruce and Robert come to
represent the conflicting thoughts in Chriss own mind and the camera angles
accentuate the link between the doctors external struggle and the patients
internal one. The language is especially compelling. The characters carefully parse and
rearrange key words, which serve not only as tokens of sanity or insanity but also as
weapons. The process will be familiar to fans of David Mamet, but Penhall covers new and
All three acting performances are strong. Brian Cox is excellent as the ambitious Robert, gradually and artfully revealing the baser impulses that reside beneath the doctors polished professional demeanor. Shaun Parkess searing portrayal of Chris is the heart of the show and he is particularly good at giving life to the menagerie of concoctedand also legitimatefears that haunt the patient. One misstep, however, is the art direction in one sequence. During a crucial lunchtime conversation between Bruce and Robert, the two face off in a blue-lit lunchroom while Robert peels an orange on the table between them. The metaphor is far too obvious and it detracts from one of Penhalls richest scenes. Even so, Howard Daviess direction is strong overall and the performances create an almost irresistible momentum.
- Chris Pepus