Review: Blood Orange, Old Red Lion Theatre

In her self-written one-woman show Blood Orange, Tania Amsel takes us on a journey through England’s hospitals and the daily life of NHS’s nurses. With a dark comedic twist, she manages to invite the audience into the head of a woman who is struggling with herself and the health care system around her.

Especially now, at a time where the discussion about the NHS is more important than ever, the play is performed at just the right time to shine a light on the immensely important and life-changing jobs of doctors and nurses in the NHS. 

Blood Orange benefits from a sparse stage design with only a chair and a multipurpose hospital room divider which enhance the focus on the initial story. This simplicity goes hand in hand with the storyline of the play. A young woman named Amy (Amsel) is training to become a nurse. She finds herself in a busy hospital in Swansea, trying to manoeuvre through her holiday shifts while climbing up the career ladder, attempting to score a date and praying that the bleeper won’t make a sound during her shift and call her into ICU.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Amy, her family and her past, and we accompany her through the struggles she is facing during her 12-hour shift (complete with a tequila & wine hangover). She goes into detail about the relationship between her and her colleagues, her patients and her mother, and provides a thought-provoking insight into the influence that emotional stress and trauma can have on the mind.

The play is an emotional rollercoaster that takes the audience deeper into Amy’s past and delivers a bittersweet tale about loss and its aftermath. In some places the story feels a bit scattered. The constant switch between present-day and seven-year-old Amy makes it hard to follow her timeline at some points and the events meant to lead up to the big ending are missing a red thread. A good use of the performance space under the direction of Hamish MacDougall makes up for that and tries to bring a spatial pattern into the performance. 

Distracting from the story is also the music, designed by Tingying Dong. A series of high-pitched beeps and hectic piano notes creates tension and expectations in the most unfitting places and is missing in some of the more emotionally challenging scenes. 

It takes Amsel a while to pick up pace in her performance, perhaps due to nerves, or due to the fact that the story is trying very hard to leave the big surprise for the end and cover up anything that hints towards the big reveal. However, as soon as the theme of the play is established it easily keeps us on the edge of our seats, possibly even with a clogged throat – just like the main character herself.   

Blood Orange is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 4 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website