Theatre Review: Red Paints Artist As Tortured Genius

Red, Wyndham Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 16 months ago

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Theatre Review: Red Paints Artist As Tortured Genius Red, Wyndham Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

John Logan's 2009 play portrays the celebrated American abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko at a crucial point in his career. In his New York studio in 1958-9 he works on a group of murals he has been commissioned to paint for the upmarket Four Seasons restaurant in the iconic new Seagram Building. Disgusted by its corporate commercialism he eventually abandons the project — just as he would cut short his own life a decade later.

Logan also creates a fictional character Ken, a young art student working as Rothko's assistant, who initially regards the demanding master with awe but later challenges his dismissal of the up-and-coming pop artists. But as well as containing a debate on art, Red shows an artist in the process of creation. There is an exhilarating scene where the two are priming a large canvas which is almost balletic in its choreographed harmony.

The team behind Michael Grandage's original production at the Donmar Warehouse — which went on to win six Tonys on Broadway — once again delivers stunning results, with designer Christopher Oram's pulsating blood-red pastiches enhanced by Neil Austin's glowing lighting, backed by Adam Cork's throbbing music.

Alfred Molina also returns to the lead role in a hugely impressive physical performance that conveys not only Rothko's messianic belief in his own genius, but also the doubts and depression that tortured him: he is afraid that "One day the black will swallow the red". Alfred Enoch offsets him fittingly as the likeable Ken who wants to let some natural light into this hermetically sealed world.

Red, Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA, £10-£99. Until 28 July.

Last Updated 18 May 2018