The Red - Original Theatre Online - Review
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
With such successes as ‘Into the Night’, ‘A Splinter of Ice’ and ‘Being Mr Wickham’ under their belts, Original Theatre have been pushing the boundaries of online theatre, bringing high quality entertainment to audiences at home and setting a standard for how powerful theatre can be even when through a screen. Their most recent offering ‘The Red’ by comedian Marcus Brigstocke, brings together father and son team Bruce and Sam Alexander in a two-person family drama that explores alcoholism, grief and the relationship between a father and son who might just have more in common than they first realised.
‘The Red’ tells the story of Benedict, who on the day of his father’s funeral is faced with one final request from his late father. Alone in the wine cellar, surrounded by his father’s vast wine collection, Benedict is challenged with a decision that causes him to re-evaluate his life in many different ways. His father loved wine and found the experience of sharing it around to be an act of friendship and love, but Benedict’s relationship with alcohol is vastly different. He was a teenage alcoholic, and he’s been sober for 25 years, so when faced with his father’s final wish of toasting his memory with a bottle of exceptionally fine red wine, he is left in turmoil. Will he resist the urge and retain all that he has worked so hard for, or will he give into temptation and potentially risk it all, and will an internal conversation with his father, played out as if he was there in the wine cellar with him, help him to make his decision?
Filmed and performed over only two settings, we are well and truly brought into Benedict’s (Sam Alexander) world, into his thoughts and the back and forth as he tries to make his decision. From the wine cellar to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, we see the journey that Benedict has been on up to this point, all that he went through to become the person he is today and leave the teenager that was dependent on drink far behind. We also see Bruce Alexander as the father who loved wine and saw it all as a social thing, a way of bringing people together and celebrating. What unfolds is an in-depth conversation as Benedict desperately tries to explain the process of overcoming an alcohol addiction to the father who seems to never have quite understood just what his son went through to turn his life around.
Temptation is a strong force, and one that forces Benedict to relive some old truths. He’s captured by the colour, the smell, and the sensation of holding the wine glass, treating it as a work of art and something that transport him back to his days in rehab and meetings trying to explain his dependency on drink. Sam Alexander’s performance is captivating, a series of monologues and conversations bringing Benedict’s story to life, almost as if you can see and hear the cogs turning around his mind, a pros and cons list being written there and then as he tries to make up his mind.
The chemistry between the two characters is as real as it can be, for they are a real-life father and son, and that gives this entire piece a feeling of complete believability as the pair naturally bounces off of each other. Bruce’s father gives a life and soul of party energy, someone who loved to socialise and pass around a drink at any available opportunity. But as he listens to his son’s plight, sees the pain in his eyes as he explains how he has lost people to drink dependency, there is a glimmer of realisation in the father that perhaps he was more like his son than he thought.
Marcus Brigstocke’s writing is brave, painting images of what people may think alcoholism to be questioning that is not the amount that someone may drink but instead why they drink, what that alcohol does to them and how turning away from it can completely change a person. It explores the culture of drinking, the habits, the rituals, and the social implications, all through this back-and-forth conversation between a son and his late father. But underneath all of that is another exploration, one of grief and coming to terms with lose as we see Benedict’s decision about the wine also helping him to explain how he feels about losing his dad, revisiting old memories with him, both good and bad.
Alex Marker’s design and Matt Haskin’s lighting create a sense of intimacy, from the warmth and safe sanctuary feel of the wine cellar to the stark almost bare cold feeling of the flashbacks to the meetings, it all brings Benedict’s thoughts to life in a clever way that truly allows the viewer to see the story from his point of view.
‘The Red’ not only provides excellent performances from Bruce and Sam Alexander in a truly captivating story but only continues to prove that Original Theatre are out there continuing to set a standard for online theatre, creating pieces that truly capture the story whilst using the best of digital technology. This production draws you in and for the hour-long running time you are completely invested in Benedict’s story and his difficult decision, asking the audience to decide for themselves what they would do if faced with a similar situation, and exploring the themes of alcoholism and grief in a sensitive manner. This is a piece of theatre that is not to be missed.
You can book tickets for ‘The Red’ and see what else Original Theatre online has to offer here https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/34/the-red-by-marcus-brigstocke
Reviewed after viewing the production via a press access link.
Images found via Google, not my own