‘The Colours’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
The Colours, Soho Theatre 2019
© Hannah Anketell

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Meditative verbatim play about (end of) life in a Welsh hospice

‘The Colours’ is about death; or rather, crucially, it’s about people with terminal illnesses dealing with the knowledge of the imminent end of their lives.

Max Barton’s production opens on patients at the Ty Olwen Hospice in Swansea, who are participating in a ‘visualisation’ technique, imagining themselves on a Welsh beach. The play then dips into their lives, from the initial circumstances of their diagnosis to their day-to-days since.

‘The Colours’ adopts a similar approach to 2017’s ‘The Listening Room’, created by the same team. The ensemble cast move between characters, acting out words and dialogue from real-life interviewees at the Ty Olwen Hospice shortly after these are fed into headphones they’re wearing.

It’s an effective way of introducing a sense of ‘now’ into the production’s verbatim theatre underpinnings. The occasional hesitations and pauses, whether in the interviews or from the actors playing catch-up, contribute to a strong sense of real time unfolding on stage.

Time is a key component here. Designer Luke Robson’s set is an intimate, blank, blue, stage space. Each character – t-shirt colour-coded to the chair storage containers they carry around and sit on – periodically empties sand into a bucket on a ladder in the background, feeding a thin stream pouring from it.

It’s not subtle, but it works well as a constant reminder of the preciousness of the time passing during even the most seemingly mundane conversations. Together, Barton and writer Harriet Madeley conjure an atmosphere of quiet reflection – a moving understatedness.

Each cast member, whose character-coded, single-colour t-shirts are a kind of universalising canvas, do well to shade in the personalities and idiosyncrasies of who they’re portraying. Morfydd Clark is particularly moving as Joe, a 60-something husband and father with terminal prostate cancer. She makes his few words speak volumes.

At times, the almost therapeutic calmness works against ‘The Colours’ as a piece of theatre. Its meditative tone, while undeniably kind, thoughtful and generous, is also frictionless, sometimes seeing successive scenes drift along on the same wave. While beautifully observed, it also feels somehow incomplete. 

By: Tom Wicker

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