Review: Red, Donmar Warehouse

“One day the black will swallow the red”

Red, at the Donmar Warehouse, is a new play by John Logan about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) and his fictional new apprentice (Eddie Redmayne) and is spread over a couple of years so that we get a chance to see how their relationship progresses from that of master and pupil to something more as we come a crucial point in Rothko’s career: his acceptance of a massive commercial commission for the Four Seasons restaurant.

Alfred Molina is mesmerising as the darkly intense painter, his unpredictable eruptions are convincingly protrayed, his flawed confidence in himself unshakeable and he is evenly matched by Eddie Redmayne whose portrayal of the intimidated apprentice with his own personal demons. We see him growing into someone unafraid to challenge his master, unwilling to let Rothko off the hook and hence matches Molina’s energy with a wiry burgeoning intellect. Swiftly directed, it’s over in just over an hour and a half and I never once got bored, the lighting is also an excellent contributing factor to this, helping the canvases to pulsate as Rothko desired and constantly drawing the eye in, shedding a whole new light (pardon the pun) on his work for me.

Red is as interesting a play about art as I think I’ve ever seen. More successful than the recent The Line which utilised a similar famous painter (Degas) and apprentice relationship but suffered from a lack of real dramatic purpose whilst attempting to shoehorn in 30 years worth of events, this play benefits from being much more focused and unafraid to back up all of its verbosity with the presentation of art as a physical activity too (as typified in the priming scene, as top-rate a scene of theatre as you can get), resulting in a convincing authenticity of an artist at work.

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