Wyndham’s Theatre, London – until 28 July 2018
Alfred Enoch and Alfred Molina both shine in this revival of John Logan’s play, now playing at the Wyndham’s Theatre.
Last seen in London at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009, John Logan’s play about the artist Mark Rothko offers a real insight into the artist’s character as well as his approach towards art.
In his production, Michael Grandage clearly understands that the play requires no embellishments and allows the story and relationship between Rothko and his assistant Ken to take centre stage. But it is not only a production that highlights perfectly the various debates and opposing views that the pair discusses but also has lovely moments of humour that captures the different elements of the pair’s professional but ultimately distant relationship.
But the production is also deeply technical, capturing the many techniques that Rothko used to create his work – including getting the two actors to prime a canvas in front of the audience. This adds another level to the audience’s understanding of Rothko’s attitude towards his art – particularly when Ken confronts him about loving his work, his disgust at the way the art world has become commercialised, yet with a willingness to have his work hanging in a restaurant. He loves his work to the point where he is jealous of anyone who gets to view it but doesn’t understand it – a complicated personality whose clear deep-rooted insecurities shine through in this play.
Red might be concerned with the world of art, but for those sitting in the audience, it is made accessible to everybody because Logan handles it with a light touch that allows the art to cover a number of other issues that the audience can relate to. Issues such as life and death are covered thoughtfully, with references to Jackson Pollack’s death and the way in which Ken’s parents died providing the most poignant moments in the play.
As the story unfolds, it is the performances from Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch that keep the audience captivated from beginning to end. Molina reprises his role as Mark Rothko having previously played the part at the Donmar in 2009 and it is a wonderfully detailed and mesmerising performance as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the way in which his work is viewed. He captures the artist’s conflicting moods and dry sense of humour with ease and it is clear that he relishes the part. Meanwhile, in contrast to this Alfred Enoch as his assistant Ken is wonderful support – eager and enthusiastic throughout, showcasing that while the character is in awe of the artist he is also not afraid to confront him about his ideas. The conversation between them as they discuss the many things which are red is a particular highlight – capturing the contrasting nature of their character’s attitudes and outlook on life perfectly. Together, both Molina and Enoch have a wonderful natural chemistry together that makes the performance believable and completely absorbing to the audience.
Neil Austin’s lighting is equally important – such as when Rothko discusses the way in which lighting changes the way a work of art appears to the eye, the audience begins to see it with the help of Austin’s soft and perceptive lighting design, making the point clear. Meanwhile, Christopher Oram’s set design is wonderfully authentic and really places the audience at the heart of the unfolding events. Its rustic appeal makes watching the moments in which Rothko and Ken are at work feel even more fascinating to watch.
Overall, Red contains all the elements to make this an invigorating and powerful production to watch with two extraordinary performances at the heart of it. Excuse me while I go to the Tate Modern to examine some of Mark Rothko’s work for myself.