My tagline might suggest a bad performance, but it wasn’t. This play is a 5* must see, for all art and theatre lovers. If that isn’t enough to get you there, tickets can be found for £10, and the way in which the theatre is set out, every seat gives you a great view. RED is being performed at Wyndham’s, London, until 28 July. Box office: 020-400 1257. Catch it whilst you can.
RED takes the audience to Rothko’s Bowery studio in the late 1950’s, where he has been commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons’ restaurant in New York. For this, he needs an assistant, Ken, to mix paints, stretch canvases, fetch coffee and listen to Rothko’s dogmatic rambles and raging paranoia about life, art and his career.
This play is one of few that offers a plausible portrait of an artist at work. Discussing his process; weeks of staring at one mural, listening to classical music and eventually rapidly painting the colour red. The piece creates discussion of what his art, and all art, represents and the frustration felt between the two actors was sublime. The energy on the stage made me feel alive. Wanting to join in the conversation, wanting to give my opinion, I had to wait until the end to have my own artists rampage.
This show is one and half hours long with no interval. Time almost stands still as you’re trying to understand Rothko the artist and are captivated by his position and presence and his forthright ideas of the world. The contrast between a young/new artist and an experienced wise one, showed the progression art has taken over the years. Talking about how the son out lives the father, younger artists kill their predecessors and make way for new work. Beautifully tragic, as arrogant and forceful Rothko appears to be, with his art he becomes wonderfully vulnerable. At one point he talks about how his paintings have to be together so they are not alone, and this hit my heart. The contrast between his art and himself; a man who spends his time in a dark studio alone, creates work that needs to be together. Incredible.
In Christopher Oram’s design, the studio looks like an artists work-space. Paintings, canvases, lighting, paints everywhere, messy yet with organisation. The highlight of the production is the moment when Rothko and Ken take a blank canvas and slap on an undercoat. With music behind them, the frantically slap on a red undercoat before falling to the floor in exhaustion.
Both Alfred’s, own the stage without under-mining the other; both actors complement one another as well as the lighting. They equally bring the stage to life and through the powerful, dramatic monologues force the audience to understand their positions and opinions on art. Alfred Enoch play’s Ken with a unique, innocent curiosity and neediness for gratification. Through the play he develops into a wiser, stronger artist, able to work on his own.
“Make something new!” is what is urged at the end of the play. To go outside and experience. After heated arguments and a drive to insult the artist, yet not the art, this was a powerful statement to walk away with.
The final lighting, which highlights the blood red in the canvas as the stage turns black is a beautiful, heavy ending. With the artist’s back to the audience, their eyes are fixated on the canvas, left to think about how the art makes you feel. For me, I felt a sense of fear, then completetion. Which is what I hope to expect before I die. (Deep)
I was lucky enough to get a photo with one Alfred (my fave) and I think we make a lovely, cute sweaty couple.
The real art works by Mark Rothko are currently on exhibition at the Tate London, which I went to see the following day. I appreciated the work so much more from seeing the play, and was memorised by the lighting in the art gallery space. You can take photos, but without flash, obviously. Here are mine:
“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.”
― Mark Rothko