You probably recognise Daniel Kaluuya from the critically-acclaimed movie, Sicario. Or Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Or even Skins. Man’s had his face on your screen a lot and now you can see him up close and personal at the Young Vic as he’s starring in the excellent Blue/Orange, directed by Matthew Xia. Playing the role of Christopher, he’s in a psychiatric hospital and wants to get out. The trouble is he thinks orange is blue and the doctors can’t decide whether he can leave.
So tell us about Blue/Orange, Daniel.
My character Christopher is on the eve of the release of his 28 day section in a psychiatric ward – he’s about to go back into society but he’s showing signs of mental delusion. It addresses what constitutes when someone should be sectioned and how ill do you have to be in order to prove that you need to stay there. It deals with whether he has to kill someone or himself to stay.
Did you have to visit any psychiatric hospitals to research?
Yeah we did, we visited a children’s psychiatric ward at Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill last week and it really was a hell of an experience – the energy of it. My character is dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder and he constantly feels like he’s unconsciously being persecuted against – you can feel why you’d feel that way in those kinds of places. You’re there because you’re ill, however it can be perceived that you’re being locked up. It’s different to a hospital vibe, you’re not allowed to leave. My character’s feeling locked up so he raises the stakes of his condition because he’s in there, but he needs to be in there to get better. That’s what really hit home to me is that why if someone had symptoms of BPD they would think that place isn’t good for them, even though it’s what’s best for them. It was really interesting to see the incredible work the people who work there do – I really do applaud them.
One of the doctors in the play says that your character should be discharged because he’d be surrounded by people who think just like you? What does he mean by that?
It’s more to do with the outside world accelerating his condition. Christopher talks about moments when he’s being attacked and racially victimised on his estate in White City and how football hooligans bully him. If he goes back there then he has to go through all that again. For him to go in to the hospital and come out and not be changed can make him feel like a failure, in the sense that he hasn’t got better and that pushes him further than what he did to get sectioned in the first place. It’s more to do with the fact that he needs protection and one of the doctors actually caring about him as an individual and thinking what’s best for him and that he needs more time to come to terms with what he has. The other doctor doesn’t agree and feels that if my character has, in fact, got schizophrenia then that’s a more serious issue.
That’s something you don’t want two doctors disagreeing over.
We had a consultant come in and talk to us about it and it’s really common. It’s all about interpretation; it’s objective opinion. What part of it is illness and what part of it is someone’s character? How can you tell if someone is just eccentric or if someone is unwell? Especially if you don’t know them; you haven’t seen them grow up and understand their character. What the play deals with is if the doctors are looking at it from an ethnocentric point of view in the sense that because my character is black and they’re white, what’s culturally acceptable. Are they seeing someone behaving so animated because they are unwell or is it just who they are? The stakes are so high for Christopher in this place and the doctors careers too – they have other motives. I find the fact that there is a debate about ethnocentrism in this play so interesting, there is a debate about what it’s like to be black in Britain, what it’s like to be working class – my character doesn’t have a stake in that debate, the doctors discuss his issues over his head. I want people to go away and talk about this play and think whether we’re looking after each other and what we can do for our community.
An actor once described to me the difference acting for film and stage as film you have to be like Usain Bolt – perfect for 10 seconds and stage like a marathon runner. you’ve done both, do you have a preference?
They really are completely different disciplines. With a film you’ve only got two takes, so you’ve got to show up. With a play you’ve got five weeks to get ready, but you’ve got so much more to unpack – on stage you’re the editor. I love that Usain Bolt analogy. On stage you can really wrestle with your character and you can change it and say things differently so it has a totally different intention. Film lasts forever, which I find quite beautiful – stuff comes on TV and it reminds me of everything I was doing then, but I also like the fact that theatre doesn’t have a life. I find it wicked to be in the position to enjoy both.