‘Red’ review

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Alfred Molina (Mark Rothko), Alfred Enoch (Ken)
 (Johan Persson)
Johan PerssonRED by Logan, , Writer - John Logan, Director - Michael Grandage, Designer - Christopher Oram, Wyndhams Theatre, London, UK, Credit: Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Alfred Enoch (Ken)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Alfred Enoch (Ken), Alfred Molina (Mark Rothko)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Alfred Molina (Mark Rothko), Alfred Enoch (Ken)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson Alfred Molina (Mark Rothko), Alfred Enoch (Ken)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Alfred Molina is a mighty Mark Rothko in this intense, visually stunning drama about the agony of art

Finally bagging itself a West End transfer a hefty nine years after its hit run at the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage’s production of John Logan’s ‘Red’ has lost none of its power over the decade.

The subject is art, and an artist: abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (played by Alfred Molina, star of the Donmar run). We meet him 1957 as the last man standing of his peers. Jackson Pollock is dead, and the pop artists are snapping at his heels. But there is always work to be done and in this case, the work is a mega-paying commission to paint a mural for the fancy new Four Seasons hotel in New York. In this, Rothko is abetted by his assistant Ken (Alfred Enoch, replacing one Eddie Redmayne, who did it at the Donmar), who we meet on his very first day at work.

Initially, he’s gobsmacked by Rothko, whose Prospero-like pronouncements, granity seriousness and almost breathtaking lack of interest in his new employee seem to mark him out as something shamanic, superhuman. As two years pass, Ken (a fictional character) grows increasingly frustrated at Rothko’s hermetically sealed world, his insistence on anguish in his work, his staring at canvasses for days to ‘find’ the painting and his increasing obsession with black as a metaphor for annihilation.

US playwright Logan’s short, intense play has its faults, notably a rather American tendency towards excessively mannered dialogue (an early discussion of Nietzsche between the two could practically have been lifted from an episode of ‘Frazier’). And Ken has a tragic backstory that’s almost impressive in its contrivance.

But for the most part, ‘Red’ remains pretty special. The dialogue has its faults, but the remarkable, elemental way that the two men discuss colour is not one of them (‘One day the black with swallow the red’, declares a fearful Rothko, early on).

And Michael Grandage’s production is just magnificent, the stage dominated by hulking, unworldly ochre paintings (designer Christopher Oram is on the form of his life). In its most iconic scene, the two men prime a huge canvas with a rusty blood-coloured paint and their intense physical effort gives a hint at the agonies Rothko insists on inflicting upon himself.

The play’s central debate is less whether Rothko is a sellout for accepting the Four Seasons commission, more whether he has let down his art by pledging it to an environment unsuited to it. It is a genuinely nuanced argument, and the constant palpable presence of Rothko’s pain – as physically manifested in the canvases – is what gives ‘Red’ its bite. The tortured artist is a naff cliché, but Molina’s towering performance avoids tropes – his Rothko barely has emotions at all, seemingly wholly devoted to his work, and yet clearly his entire life is defined by an existential dread and his desire to impose order upon it.

Despite heavy foreshadowing, ‘Red’ refrains from making the leap to Rothko’s death, and ends on an ambivalent note that contains a small vindication for the artist. Though in fact, the true last scene is not a verbal one. It’s a painting, spectacularly lit by Neil Austin, that looks genuinely alive, bars of black with two pulsing red strips of colour like a gateway to somewhere far beyond. It is more powerful than words.


Users say (4)

5 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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2 people listening

‘Red’ is a powerful, stunning production and it’s being played at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

‘Red’ The Play is filled with life and passion.

It’s superbly presented and incredibly crafted to perfection.

It’s just two people on one stage expressing their love for art and creativity.

The only thing used to create such an eye-catching production is one tool we human beings have and that’s dialogue.

Both Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch have a humorous approach, but both have a serious dialogue on stage.

It was truly mesmerising to witness two actors with exceptional talent.

It’s astonishing to see that simple communication with another person makes this a successful show to be seen. It didn’t need a huge production to make this a memorable story. Their simple, talkative expressions is what makes ‘Red’ fantastic. Simply brilliant!

I somewhat felt inspired to create, to talk, to write, to experiment, and to experience anything that I possibly can.

Life goes by so quickly that we don’t realise it. Grab life and live it to the fullest. Always follow your dreams.

Red The Play showcases this aesthetic of life beautifully.

It was extremely authentic, truthful and very inspiring to witness two phenomenal actors portraying life in indescribable ways.

It’s appropriately dramatic and their discussions about the world of arts is very relatable.

It’s understandable and it was speechless seeing them both in action with a huge canvas in front of them.

It’s impressively striking and I enjoyed it very much.

Art is a powerful thing and this production is too.

Grab the chance to see this ninety minute play with no intervals. You won’t even see the time go by.

Love MD.


Great stuff, £10 tickets a bonus (get the ones in the first two rows - probably best seats in the house for an intense two-hander).

John Logan’s play RED is enjoying a successful revival with a limited run (until end July) at Wyndhams Theatre and would appeal to those of an artistic inclination, or anyone who simply enjoys erudite, aesthetic verbosity - however unrealistic and flowery the phrasing occasionally feels.

Full review for LondonBoxOffice https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/news/post/second-look-red


Was surprised by how much I enjoyed this 90 minute production with no interval. Witty dialog and superb acting by Alfred Molina and Alfred Enoch. It’s definately worth your time!


After 90 minutes of "Red" I felt I had began to know Rothko. I even started to see his Art in a new way & to understand what he was getting at.

This is not just a dry lecture on his Art, it is a glorious piece of entertainment, and a change to catch a really terrific performance from Alfred Molina, with solid support from Alfred Enoch. I was amazed to see so many empty seats when I saw it - get a couple while you can, you may have to wait another decade before it gets another revival. 

Truly exceptional! Some of the scenes in this play are breathtaking. All performed in one half keeps the suspense and energy alive. If you can still get tickets you should.