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Mental Illness Treatment and Institutional Racism in Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2021, 34(2), pp.33-65
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Received : July 20, 2021
  • Accepted : August 9, 2021
  • Published : August 31, 2021

Heebon Park-Finch 1

1충북대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Mental Illness Treatment and Institutional Racism This paper examines Joe Penhall’s ‘issue play’ Blue/Orange (2000), which addresses mental health care in the UK, along with race/racism and professional hierarchical power struggles. Set in a consultation room of a mental hospital in London, the play unfolds around a young black patient, Christopher, and two psychiatric professionals (a young, idealistic junior doctor, Bruce, and an authoritative senior consultant, Robert) who clash over the diagnosis and treatment of Christopher’s Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The personal and professional power struggle engaged in by these two professionals concludes when their patient is discharged into a distressingly inadequate social support system indicative of the crisis in the treatment of adolescent mental health patients in the UK at that time. This study focuses on two related themes. First, the play identifies areas for concern in the UK public healthcare system and in particular the ‘Care in the Community’ policy for mental health patients. Second, Penhall’s portrayal of racial prejudice and stereotyping on the part of the police and health professionals is an indictment of ‘institutional racism’ as identified in the Macpherson Report of 1999, and provides the socio-political context of the play. In conclusion, Blue/Orange, with its sophisticated and rhythmic language, irony, and black comedy, provides a critical perspective of a society hostile to its black citizens and thereby contributes significantly to the contemporary debate on this socio-political problem. Furthermore, this study proposes that Penhall’s dramatic aesthetics place him as one of the most distinct ‘new voices’ in British theatre.

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