Red is the new Blue/Orange

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Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
Red is the new Blue/Orange#1
Posted: 12/21/09 at 3:12pm
Prior to seeing Red I was struggling to think of what the most outstanding thing I'd seen at the theatre this year was: it turned out that it was the last thing I saw. After ranting about the state of new plays in the West End I'm pleased at long last to find one to rave about. Red at the Donmar Warehouse is a two hander about the artist Mark Rothko and a fictional apprentice set in 1959 when Rothko was working on a commission to provide artwork for The Four Seasons restaurant at the newly Seagrams Building in New York. Although the abstract expressionist paintings were completed (and most of them exhibited at Tate Modern last year where I saw them; this following Simon Schama's TV documentary about Mark Rothko) they were never hung in their intended location due to Rothko's change of mind and him returning the $35,000 (about £2m in today's money) fee he was paid.

The play pulsates with ideas just as Rothko's paintings are supposed to pulsate and envelope the onlooker. These ideas are given their expression through the spurt of intellectual growth of Rothko's apprentice as he wrestles with the fierce, intense, tortured intellect of his employer in the dark, soulless studio which Rothko inhabits.

John Logan (who I was interested to note did the screenplay for Sweeney Todd) has created a taught, engrossing work that sheds darkness on these unfathomable paintings and gives what may be an authentic voice to what was going on in Rothko's mind. Alfred Molina turns in an unpredictable and volcanic performance as Rothko whilst Eddie Redmayne gives a realistic portrayal of the intimidated apprentice growing into the confrontational intellectual challenger holding his ground, rarely letting Rothko off the hook and never letting Molina steal the scene. They balance each other superbly and this is vital for the success of the production. The lighting is also interesting, helping the canvases to pulsate and sometimes even making the audience uncomfortable intruders on the battle within the studio.

Red is similar to Blue/Orange in as much that it is an ongoing exchange of ideas, opinions and arguments. Since there are only two characters who are either consistent or show consistent growth in their lines of thought it is not as complex nor as demanding as Blue/Orange. None the less it is by far the best play I have seen in years, outclassing raved-about stuff such as That Face and August: Orange County (yes - I know) by miles. After leaving the theatre and getting half-way down St Martin's Lane I had to turn around and go back to the Donmar just to buy the script. I've never bought the script of a play I've just seen before in my life. And I'd already read it by the time the train got me home. A truly brilliant piece of theatre.

PS Pseud's corner: At the start, when Rothko walks up to one of his enormous red canvases and strokes it, I saw these paintings as I have never seen them before: I realised they are enormous, all-encompassing clitorides. Rothko, ahead of his time, obviously saw the growth of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s and embraced it.
Updated On: 12/21/09 at 03:12 PM