Theatre Review: Red

Presented by Independent Theatre
Reviewed Wednesday 13th April 2011

Venue: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm to Sat 16th and Thurs 19th to Sat 21st, 2pm Sat 16th and 6:30pm Mon 18th April 2011
Duration: 95min no interval
Tickets: adult $33.30/conc $26.35
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

Independent Theatre have moved from their usual venue, the Odeon Theatre, into the city for their latest work. It was with great anticipation that I went to see what use they would make of the different possibilities offered by the Space Theatre. They have continued their relationship with Chicago based playwright John Logan, an association which they began when he was still a young unknown. They produced three of his plays early in his career and now, with his rise to greater heights, he has remembered his early supporters, not only allowing them to present the Australian première of his latest play but will also be visiting Adelaide to attend a performance. This play won six Tony Awards, including Best Play of 2010, and Logan is now writing the script for the next James Bond film, having previously written scripts for The Aviator and Sweeney Todd. Because of the importance of this occasion the Adelaide Festival Centre CEO, Douglas Gautier, wisely agreed to allow Independent to use the Space for this production.

Mark Rothko was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Latvia in 1903 and, like so many Jewish families, his parents migrated to America when he was a young boy. He had a long career as a painter but it was a short period, as an abstract expressionist, a term that he disliked, that gave him his fame. He suffered from depression and took his own life in 1970, leaving behind around 600 unsold paintings. This play refers to a commission that he was given in 1958 to produce paintings for The Four Seasons Restaurant in the new Seagram Building, designed by the architects Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. In the end he returned the $35,000 advance on the commission and kept the paintings, three complete series totalling forty paintings, as he thought the venue unsuitable for his works. He then kept them in storage until 1968. They can now be seen in the Tate Modern in London, the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Japan and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

David Roach plays Mark Rothko, in by far his finest performance to date. Roach has always been a superb actor but, in this production, he has surpassed himself. Mark Rothko stands before us, without the slightest hint of Roach visible, in voice, movement or posture. He has completely absorbed himself in his character in a remarkable transformation and gives a performance of which any actor would be justifiably proud.

Paul-William Mawhinney as Ken, Rothko’s young assistant, rises to the challenge with a strong performance and is an excellent foil for Roach’s Rothko. He balances Roach’s performance very well, providing plenty of impetus for Rothko to expound his ideas

Rob Croser’s direction is clear and precise. John Logan’s script is incredibly rich and offers vast possibilities. Croser delves deeply into this text and creates a marvellous production that captivates from start to finish. Next time that they are looking for an Artistic Director, perhaps State Theatre might want to look close to home.

David Roach’s set design within the arrangement of the Space, placing the stage area in one corner, allows plenty of hanging space for Rothko’s paintings in his studio. Matthew Marciniak’s lighting is brilliantly devised to give life to those paintings, giving them an almost three dimensional quality. Claude Demir’s beautifully executed paintings in the style of Rothko, of course, are of vital importance to the production. The production is also filled with wonderful music from many great composers, as well as a snippet from jazz trumeter, Chet Baker.

You will find, as I did, that you need to keep reminding yourself that this is an amateur theatre company, working with a tiny budget, and not a top ranking professional company. This production should be toured nationally, so let’s hope that a smart entrepreneur sees it and does just that. If you do not yet have a ticket then you need to do something about it very quickly, before word gets around and it sells out. This is an exceptional piece of theatre and you should make sure that you see it.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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