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Review: Red (Wyndhams Theatre, London)

Sunday, 27th May 2018  

Red Review - Wyndham's Theatre

In this revival of the Donmar’s 2009 world premiere of John Logan’s intense two hander, Alfred Molina once more gives a triumphant performance as American abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. Michael Billington remarked of this original production that “Alfred Molina, with his large frame and beetling eyebrows, has exactly the fierce intensity of an artist whose paintings were a dynamic battle between Apollo and Dionysus” and this is no less true almost ten years later. This time around Molina stars alongside the superb Alfred Enoch as Rothko’s assistant Ken.

The play takes us inside Rothko’s studio during 1958/59 as he prepares The Seagram Murals, originally commissioned to hang in The Four Seasons restaurant in New York and which now adorn the walls of the Tate.  Within the confines of this dimly lit and paint splattered studio we see Rothko and Ken enter into colossal debates about the very nature of art and they way we see. Molina and Enoch spark off each other beautifully, Ken gradually learning how to spar with the complex and fierce Rothko whose determination to be understood is uncompromising.

Christopher Oram’s design takes us right in to the heart of Rothko’s working environment within which we are gifted a rare glimpse of the everyday routines of his painting factory. Ken diligently darts about building canvasses and mixing paint building to the physically explosive and thrillingly frenzied scene in which the two men prime a canvas with blood red paint that dries before our eyes into a deep maroon. Watching paint dry has never been so exciting.

Michael Grandage’s slick direction has the production whipping along, only 90 minutes in length the play pulses with a furious energy which Neil Austin’s lighting design allows to simmer underneath the dialogue until Rothko’s work is stunningly brought to life.

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