Red at Wyndham’s Theatre
The Tony Award-winning play Red premiered in 2009 and takes place in the 1950s, but Alfred Molina’s polish as Mark Rothko, Alfred Enoch’s doe-eyed eagerness as his assistant Ken, an impeccably designed set and the potency of the script all combine to keep the play as fresh and vibrant as the colour that it’s named after.
Molina has reprised his role as John Logan’s verbose and grandiose painter in this West End production, and into the role he vanishes. The actor is one of those rare individuals who can bring something of themselves to every performance, while also disappearing so entirely into a character that it’s impossible to tell where Molina ends and Rothko begins. The leading man’s long chunks of dialogue – which could so easily be rendered clunky in the wrong hands – flow from him with the ideal mixture of gravitas and sanctimony as Rothko hides behind hypocrisy and cutting truth; as such, he becomes the perfect imperfect mentor to challenge Enoch’s ambitious male ingenue.
The dark details of Ken’s past remain a little unconvincing in that they are not explored fully enough to be satisfying. However, in light of the current political climate, the significance of having a black character say onstage that the colour white reminds him of cruelty and violence cannot be understated. And when Rothko rails against America as a nation under the tyranny of complacency, lazily looking for the next pretty, simple, entertaining thing, it becomes all the more fascinating when one remembers that this play is actually almost a decade old. If anything, The artist’s argument has become even more valid over time.
The non-diegetic music used to represent the passing of time misguidedly employs various chimes and tinkling bells which convey a sense of other-worldliness. This clashes both with the fact-based nature of the drama, and with the naturalistic style of the dialogue. Red does not feel like a fantasy or a fiction; the script and Molina’s performance are both far too believable. The debates and reprimands as to the nature of art and society between the two characters make for a fascinating think-piece play that applies just as much to the real world as it ever did.
Photo: Johan Persson
Red is at Wyndham’s Theatre from 15th May until 28th July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.