Reviewed – 16th May 2018
“For ninety non-stop minutes the audience is taken through a whirlwind of Rothko’s intensity, an emotional roller-coaster”
Almost a decade after its first production at the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage’s production of Red returns to the London stage, this time in the heart of the West End at the Wyndman’s Theatre. The play follows a fictional account of artist Mark Rothko and his newly appointed assistant Ken, between the years 1958 – 59 during the time of a cultural shift within the arts, as the emergence of Pop Art began to slowly push remnants of Expressionism away. One might think that such a story would best suit an audience with a solid foundation of knowledge on 20th century artists, however, the universal themes and overall plot of the play will resonate with anyone with even the remotest interest in the arts.
For ninety non-stop minutes the audience is taken through a whirlwind of Rothko’s intensity, an emotional roller-coaster. The set remains the same throughout, and is accurately based on Rothko’s original studio in New York’s Bowery. Around the studio are various interpretations of Rothko’s paintings, which are moved around by both actors during each transition and placed on the central canvas holder. Each transition, though not always clear, offers a moment for the audience to reflect on the painting in question, almost as if given a quiet moment in a gallery to take in the picture fully.
It is quite remarkable, and a testament to both the actors, Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch, and director Michael Grandage, that there is never a dull moment in the play despite the fact that most of the action could be seen by some as rather mundane. There is incredible attention to detail with the set, with each part of it serving a purpose throughout the play. In every scene we see the actors using the space as artists would; setting up and priming canvases, mixing paint to name a few. The only one thing the audience never sees either Ken or Rothko do, is actually paint. This immense focus on naturalism, as well as the genius of John Logan’s writing, makes Red an incredibly compelling piece of theatre to watch.
From those who frequent the Tate Modern, to those that have never stepped foot in a gallery before, Red highlights the arguments for the importance of the arts in society today. It may even inspire one to revisit forms of art which one may have before deemed as inaccessible.
Reviewed by Claire Minnitt
Photography by Johan Persson
Wyndham’s Theatre until 28th July