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Theatre review: Blank Space Theatre's Red is an art lecture disguised as a biopic

Published on Jul 11, 2014 11:46 AM

Perhaps you've seen a Mark Rothko painting, a blocky swathe of colours that look like vague rectangles from a distance. But go closer, and the canvas begins to shift, almost imperceptibly, with a dazzling richness and depth.

It is 1958, and the abstract expressionist painter has just agreed to a commission to fill a swanky Manhattan restaurant, The Four Seasons, with over 40 paintings (eventually known as the Seagram Murals). History tells us that he visited the restaurant, was horrified at its pretentiousness, and eventually reneged on the deal despite a fat paycheck.

Red brings us back to the spring of 1958, imagining what might have happened if Rothko (Daniel Jenkins) had hired a new assistant (Gavin Yap). As Rothko dispenses what he believes to be golden artistic wisdom, Ken eventually reveals thought-provoking theories of his own.

Red is an art lecture disguised as a biopic - even as it attempts to be a biopic disguised as an art lecture. Playwright John Logan (whose screenwriting credits include Gladiator and The Aviator) has so many ideas about art he wants to cram into his script that they leak out of every frame: whether it is a meditation on the ageing artist, the emotional devastation of colour, the eternal struggle between emotion and intellect, or the contradiction of being an artist who must go commercial against his will.

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