Theatre Review: RED

RED is the UK revival the London theatre scene have been looking forward to. Alfred Molina the award-winning actor reprises his role as the great American Abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Red premiered at the Donmar Warehouse nine years ago, and went on to win six Tony Awards, which included Best Play.

The setting is Rothko’s New York studio in 1958-9 where Mozart, Bach, Gluck  bleat out from the (red) record player, Molina is joined on stage by rising star Alfred Enoch (How to Get Away with Murder) who plays Ken his young assistant constantly bombarded by Rothko’s ego as he is threatened by the presence of a new generation of artists, and Picasso and Pollock who Rothko throughout the play makes reference to, painting a picture of a man who is anti-pop who believes artists like Pollock were victims of their own success.

Mirroring real life events in the play Rothko is commissioned to create series of murals for the Four Seasons in Manhattan and the play centers on the development of the paintings, but Rothko had reservations about the people who dined there. It was no surprise that the paintings never made it to the Fours Season perhaps Rothko was as he was reported to have told friends “trying to protect a tragic vision”,  he was known to take a stand against the commercialisation of art. In the end he donated the paintings to the Tate in London.

Molina commands a stage presence that is his own, but he also brings depth to this portrait of Rothko as the insufferable egotist. He is believable as the self- absorbed Rothko who knows nothing about the life of his assistant and even when Ken tells the story of his parent’s murder, it is insignificant, something Ken must have created, should Rothko pay attention then he would have to think about someone other than himself. “What do you see? Rothko asks his young assistant who answers “Red”, the two men plunges into their perceptions of what the colour means to each of them.

Rothko indulges his young assistant in his fear of “one day the black swallowing the red”. And there is Red everywhere. The set is a recreation of Rothko’s studio where painting after painting he produces are different shades of red. The artist and his assistant indulge in conversations about the colours of the Seagram paintings, predominantly red and black. Rothko asks Ken questions that he tends to answer himself to the point where Ken asks “do you want me to answer? In the end Ken stands up to Rothko surprisingly commanding a level of respect and humanity when Rothko recognises that the young assistant has his own dreams and decides to let him go. Red throw’s together two polished actors who make this two-cast play so much bigger with their skilled delivery.

The real Rothko was born in 1903, in Russia, in 1938 he become a citizen of the USA, a year before Picasso’s first major exhibition at the MOMA which sealed his place and influence on American Abstract expressionism. In 1970 the artist committed suicide by then he had made his mark alongside Pollock and many of the great artists of his time.  In 2008 he sold a painting at Sotheby’s, New York for $72.8 million.

RED reunites John Logan and MGC artistic Director Michael Grandage following Peter and Alice with Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw which formed part of MGC’s inaugural season in the West End in 2013, and their feature film Genius. Red is on stage now at the Wyndham Theatre in London until 28th Jul ’18 Book here

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