"What do you see?" [by James Wenley]
I’ve started with a quote. "What do you see?"
It’s the first line of RED by John Logan (he of Gladiator and The Aviator fame) , presented by the prestigious Auckland Theatre Company, starring theatre luminary Michael Hurst and directed by Mr. Oliver Driver. Sterling credentials all.
“What do you see?” says Hurst as Mark Rothko, to prospective assistant Ken (Elliot Christiensen-Yule), about one of his paintings. Ah, Art and the subjective position. While one person might see meaning and a parade of emotion, another might see just see the colour red. The Rothko works at the centre of this play are red - big canvases of colour with subtle shading. In a dazzling theatrical set piece, Yule and Hurst madly paint a canvas in front of our eyes with big brush strokes.
What do I see when I look at this production? There is Red, but also a great deal more.
Rothko was an American painter who emerged as part of the Abstract Expressionism movement in the mid 20th Century. His style changed over his career, but he is best known for his ‘mature style’ – (to quote Linda Tyler’s excellent essay in the program) “abstractions with floating blocks of pure colour which lifted viewers away from the sights and sounds of modern life into a meditative space”. Rothko died a suitably tragic artists death (which is brilliantly foreshadowed within the play) of “slashing the veins inside the crooks of his own arms”.