Sunday, 1 May 2022

REVIEW: The Red by Original Theatre (Online)

The Critics Circle Awards announced on 3rd April that they would be giving The Original Theatre a commendation for Exceptional Theatre Making During Lockdown. More than any other Theatre Company they demonstrated extraordinary innovation and creativity as they developed their techniques to create compelling and gripping streamed drama for our home consumption. They are at their best when the production takes on a cinematic feel while retaining the sense of being live as in the wonderful Into the Night in December 2021. This latest offering is completely different. The Red is a very polished theatrical staging of a radio play filmed in a single location in the Vaults. It is very well acted and produced with a powerful very personal feeling message but lacks the energy, drama, and innovation of some of last year’s work.

The Red (not to be confused with Red, the John Logan play about Mark Rothko) is a story about temptation and grief written by Marcus Brigstocke originally for Radio 4 reflecting on his own battles with alcoholism. Benedict has been a recovering alcoholic for 25 years having become addicted at 17, he says the addiction started before his first drink. We find him in the cellar of his father’s house while his father’s wake is taking place upstairs reading a letter as part of the executors’ instructions. Surrounded by 948 bottles of wine, his father regrets that they never drank the 1978 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild together which he laid down when Benedict was born. The hour-long drama then becomes a will he won’t he battle as he debates with his father in his head whether it is safe to have just one glass.

The script sets out clearly the terrible temptation for an alcoholic to risk just one glass after periods of abstinence and risk losing family, relationships, jobs, good health and the self-control required to remain sober. Anyone who has lost a family member to liver failure or other disorders from alcoholism will recognise and empathise with the debate. Equally the regret one feels when losing a parent and the conversations that you wish you had, resonates too. As Benedict says, “Every day I have this debate in my head”. The temptation is nicely set out with first the message, then the bottle, then the corkscrew, then the glass and finally the colour and smell of the poured wine and this does keep us guessing as to whether he will drink it or not. 

The casting of Bruce Alexander and his own son Sam as the father and son in the play John and Benedict was inspired by adding a touching reality to their verbal jousting over whether he should risk it or not. They create two very convincing believable characters, and the dusty setting adds realism to the play. The Director, Charlotte Peters, at first had Benedict ignoring the physical presence of his father but soon they are talking directly to each other although there is never any physical contact. It is slightly curious that when they recall the AA meeting the camera reveals the fourth wall is the seating in the Vaults Theatre in a rather cold and odd shot. 

The format of an enacted radio play is the drawback. We never meet the other family members, his brother and sister who share the inheritance, his mother, his current girlfriend or the mother of his children or his work colleagues. How would they react and what impact has his battle with abstinence had on them? It’s hinted at but the real drama would have been developed if we had seen more of what is at stake. I wanted to care more about him, and the consequences of a drink rather than just see a well-acted clinical discussion of the pros and cons of just one sip.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £20

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