Last year one of my favourite shows was Now or Later
, helped largely by a fantastic performance from Eddie Redmayne. Pair him up with Alfred Molina (you've seen him in loads of things even if you don't know the name; most high-profile would probably be as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2
) and you've got a bit of a dream cast for John Logan's new play Red
. Set in 1958-59, Molina is the ageing Mark Rothko, working on a mural commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant. Redmayne is Ken, his young assistant in the studio and an aspiring artist himself. Over the course of two years the gloriously self-absorbed Rothko lectures his assistant on the true value and meaning of art, and the importance of his generation "stamping on" the cubists before them, while not quite accepting that Pop Art doing the same thing to him is equally valid. Obviously in this teacher/student dynamic what's building up is Redmayne fighting back, but while this of course is what happens and the play is mostly long conversations, it never feels predictable. The two actors are as good as you'd expect, and Michael Grandage's production is constantly dynamic - most memorably the two "prime" a canvas (Rothko's version of which is to cover it in red paint so he can then add layers afterwards) in a beautifully energetic scene that borders on dance and leaves them both covered in paint. (Eddie Redmayne paint-spattered and panting and having to take his shirt off and have a wash and OK there may have been moments when I was somewhat distracted.)
But totty aside this is a great play fantastically acted, and all the elements work to make for a memorable evening - Christopher Oram's set evokes Rothko's studio, dimly lit because the artist feels too protective of his paintings to expose them to natural light; and Adam Cork's dramatic music gives a sense of occasion, and after scene changes blends interestingly with the music the characters listen to while working (chamber music for Rothko, jazz for Ken.) Another exciting show from the Donmar.Red
by John Logan is booking until the 6th of February at the Donmar Warehouse.