I really enjoyed the first series of How To Get Away With Murder, and despite never getting around to watching the second (or any of the others), I was eager to catch Afred Enoch’s West End debut in Red. In 2009, John Logan’s play Red opened at the Donmar Warehouse starring Alfred Molina and made a direct transfer to Broadway, winner of six Tony Awards including Best New Play, and earning Molina a Tony nomination for Best Actor In A Play. But until last month, Red had reached the West End.
Red is the story of Russian painter, Mark Rothko. Given a commission to paint the murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City in 1958, he hires Ken, an aspiring artist. Set entirely in Rothko’s studio, we see the relationship between the two painters develop over the space of Ken’s two year employment with Rothko. This may have been Rothko’s most lucrative commission, but it also resulted in his greatest moral conflict.
Directed by Michael Grandage at both the Donmar Warehouse and at Wyndham’s Theatre in its current revival, Alfred Molina returns to the role of Rothko with Alfred Enoch playing the role originated by Eddie Redmayne. The lighting is dimmed, allowing the audience to experience the light Rothko preferred to work in. When questioned by Ken about the darkened, he explains that “nature doesn’t work for [him]; the light is no good”. As soon as the white light is thrown onto the canvases, they become flat. They lose all dimension, with Rothko’s abstract paintings needing the correct environment to pulsate and have meaning.
The best sequence is when Rothko and Ken prime a blank canvas which a tone described later a dried blood. Molina and Enoch’s movements are poetic, flowing around each other in a precisely choreographed few moments. It’s hypnotising, and I dare anybody not to be mesmerised by the movement.
I definitely think this is an Olivier-worthy performance from both actors, and I fully expect for this production to get some well-deserved nominations next year. This two-hander was enthralling, and it was disappointing for the performance to end after just 90 minutes. It’s fast paced, it’s expertly layered and it’s hard-hitting. Molina is a true pro, flitting from serious to comedic, from angry to supportive in the blink on an eye. And don’t let Enoch’s inexperience think that he can’t do the same. His portrayal of Ken is wholly believable with his courage building with each scene, until he challenge’s Rothko’s ideas.
The play could’ve easily become pretentious, and whilst it was erring on the side of pretentiousness, the language was understandable. A knowledge of art isn’t necessary, but an open mind is probably a good idea. What initially seems like a power-struggle between an established artist and a newbie on the scene, Red transforms into a piece about the relationship between an artist, his artwork and those who consume it. And who the artist wants to experience it.
Red is playing a limited engagement at Wyndham’s Theatre until 28th July, with Michael Grandage’s next performance, The Lieutenant of Inishmore starring Aidan Turner, opening at the Noel Coward Theatre next month with previews beginning on the 23rd June.