Red review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘explosive, stimulating, spectacular’
Mark Rothko famously painted very large pictures, and with good reason. As a Russian Jewish emigre to America in the early 1900s, he knew what it was to be a social outcast. By painting on this scale, he engaged organically with his work, thereby acquiring a strong sense of belonging.
In Emma Jordan’s inspiring production of John Logan’s 2009 play Red, first seen at London’s Donmar Warehouse, we initially encounter Patrick O’Kane’s fiercely ascetic Rothko perfectly framed in one of the mural panels he was commissioned to make for the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York.
His assistant in this challenging but lucrative task is an aspiring young artist – intelligently and nervily played by Thomas Finnegan – whose life experiences are even more traumatic than his master’s.
Contrasting in style and appearance, O’Kane and Finnegan craft an intense, deeply absorbing relationship marked by explosive verbal and intellectual tussles over human responses to art.
The toll of the creative process is splattered over their work clothes, their faces and their bodies. Their fevered concentration on the simple act of priming a canvas is exhilarating and exhausting to witness.
Huge Rothko images dominate Ciaran Bagnall’s cathedral-like studio set. In his lighting design, the title colour is subtle but all-pervasive. Carl Kennedy’s soundscape shuts out the mayhem of the city, turning to fugues and concertos and jazz as artistic imperatives. And Dylan Quinn’s balletic choreography sees O’Kane and Finnegan gliding gracefully through the complex scene changes, lending a hypnotic poetry to the battle of morality, vision and motivation, which propels this mighty play.