Alfred Enoch and Alfred Molina spoke about the upcoming West End premiere of Michael Grandage’s production of Red, opening for previews at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre from 4 May to 28 July 2018.
How familiar were you with Rothko’s work and how has working on the play affected your relationship with Rothko’s work?
Alfred Enoch: For me, I wasn’t familiar at all, I was aware of some of the famous floating rectangles as people sort of refer to them. But I actually went to the Tate Modern before I had my audition with Michael (Grandage) the second time and just sat in the room because the Seagram murals which the play refers to are at there at the minute and it was very useful, it was kind of informative. The play gave me a sort of language to approach the work and kind of understand it (that’s probably a too sweeping statement) but to get something out of it that I wouldn’t have got out of it otherwise. I think my relationship with the text informed that and vice versa.
Do you play the part of Mark Rothko with his death in your mind?
Alfred Molina: Not really. I think there’s a time in the play towards the end where there’s an echo of what eventually happened to him but it’s like a metaphor really. He does say at one point ‘believe you me when I commit suicide there won’t be any doubt about it’. But then he denies he even said it. For anyone who knows or has an interest in finding out more about what did happen to him there’s a nice little bit of resonance in the play but we don’t actually deal with it. The play strictly deals with those two years when he was engaged with a commission.
Having played this role in performances over almost a ten-year period – how has your performance evolved?
Alfred Molina: I’m not quite sure – I think that’s for other people to decide. All I’m trying to do is to get it right. I’m just very fortunate to get another chance to do it. I think what happens – I’m only 50% of the cast – in any other play if you said you would do the piece again but there’s a 50% change in the cast that’s a huge shift. So the fact it’s only two of us doesn’t make any difference – that’s a whole chunk of the play that’s going to be different. But it is less of a revival and hopefully more of a rediscovery because we made it very clear to Alfie (Enoch) that this is yours now for the time and the place you occupy this part.
Ken is you and you are Ken – so what you do with it is absolutely up to you. I can only respond to what he gives me. The only thing that is the same is there are a few little technical bits that have to stay the same. We have to hang the frames at a certain time in a certain way, we have to finish the priming in a certain way – we have to meet certain requirements. But in terms of playing the roles or fulfilling the story it’s all new.
Why bring the play back now? What makes it relevant today?
Alfred Molina: It’s a little bit of unfinished business – we actually worked it out that we did very well at the Donmar Warehouse (a 250 seater) so by the end of the run, only about 7,000 people saw it. It was definitely unfinished business. For me personally, I haven’t played in the West End since the early 80s so from a selfish point of view, it’s nice to do it.
Alfred, how are you feeling about making your West End debut?
Alfred Enoch: Excited. It’s not like I haven’t ever done a play before so its not an unknown quantity but I have never worked at the Wyndham’s or the West End. I grew up in this city – I like going to the theatre that’s what I do with my time – so from a personal point of view its very satisfying. Even beyond the venue being a beautiful theatre – its the play a really fantastic piece of theatre and attacking it in this room with Fred and Michael has been really rewarding.
How would you describe the relationship between Rothko and Ken during the course of the play?
A.E: There’s an interesting generational tension that’s a lot of Ken’s journey through the play. He’s trying to find his own space and way of working and its not I don’t think necessarily the easiest place to do that with such a totemic figure but on the other hand there are opportunities there because you are being exposed to things, you’re being educated in a way that you wouldn’t otherwise working with someone at the top of their game.
A.M: There’s lots of parallels in the play about masters, servants, teachers, students, father, son. That dynamic between them is there and then it starts to shift in a way that it tends to do in life when the student supersedes the teacher, when the relationship is changed and they become in a sense equal. Michael said something interesting in rehearsal one day about thinking about bringing the outside world in. Rothko lives and works in this medically sealed bubble, where he’s involved with everything then suddenly in a way the door bursts open and in comes this breath of the outside world which is both refreshing and threatening.
Do you think the play is accessible for those who aren’t familiar with Rothko’s work?
Alfred Enoch: Yes I think so. To some degree I’m proof of that because I didn’t really know his work – it was vaguely familiar and that was it. It has opened something up for me that I would never have experienced otherwise – that’s a lovely thing you can stumble across something that can be a gateway into a whole other passion or range of other interests that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.