Review: Red

Filled with a perfect balance of introspection, quick one-liners, mood swings and emotional outbursts, John Logan’s Red is a wonderful theatrical rollercoaster. First rate performances from James Hagan and Will O’Mahony create intense drama and thought provoking questions about the artistic experience, consumerism and just simply appreciating other people.

British playwright John Logan’s Red premiered at London’s Donmar Warehouse before a successful run on Broadway – where it picked up six Tony Awards. This is contemporary first rate drama and it’s great to see it being performed on a Perth stage less than two years since its debut.

The stage of the Subiaco Arts Centre is transformed into the studio of artist Mark Rothko. The space is filled with canvases, paint tins are scattered about and an odd assortment of furniture decorates the room. Here we are transported to New York in the late 1950’s where artist Mark Rothko (Hagan) stares at a work in progress, carefully considering his next move.

Timidly entering into Rothko’s world is his new helper Ken (O’Mahony). Rothko has taken a commission to create a series of six murals for the Seagram’s building and over a period of time we see the artist work through personal tournament and emotional complexities while creating incredibly peaceful works of art.

Hagan’s performance as the Russian born artist is filled with nuance and subtlety, quickly moving from deep introspection to rage and then comedy within short intervals. Rothko is portrayed as many things: a tyrant, a philosopher, a teacher – it’s a multi faceted depiction. O’Mahony’s character Ken transports us to New York with his well deployed accent and as the show progresses his character journeys from enthusiastic and naïve helper to a man who challenges and questions the dominating Rothko.

Artist’s stories are challenging territory for writers and performers. In many stories of this nature the character of the artist is as intriguing as the art they create and an actor’s performance can battle with the visuals for the audience’s attention, in other cases artists are not as interesting as their work. This production gets that balance right, it explores the artist process and the mentality of an artist then transcends to ask more complex questions.

Red is great theatre, a piece that leaves you pondering and asking questions, appreciating the power of art and the commitment and dedication of the artists who create it.

Red is playing at The Subiaco Theatre Centre until 3 September.

Graeme Watson