Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

14/04/2012 - 05/05/2012

Production Details

John Bach embodies Mark Rothko, one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, in an intense and exciting bio-drama 

Fortune Theatre’s artistic director, Lara Macgregor, directs renowned New Zealand actor John Bach and outstanding talent Cameron Douglas in the Tony Award winning play, RED, by John Logan – the most critically acclaimed play to hit Broadway in years.

“A portrait of an angry and brilliant mind that asks you to feel the shape and texture of thoughts…as much as any stage work I can think of, Red captures the dynamic relationship between an artist and his creations,” The New York Times

Under the watchful gaze of his young assistant and the threatening new generation of artists, abstract expressionist Mark Rothko takes on his greatest challenge yet; to create a definitive work for an extraordinary setting – a series of spectacular murals for The Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan’s Seagram Building.

As this brilliant master wrestles with the overwhelming task, he begins to question his views on art, creativity and commerce.

When his young apprentice Ken gains the confidence to challenge him, Rothko faces the agonizing possibility that his crowning achievement could also become his undoing.

“Logan sends American abstract impressionist painter Mark Rothko into battle with his demons in this electrifying play of ideas, and the artist’s howls are pure music,” Variety.

“John Bach was always the actor I had in mind to elicit the raw and provocative spirit of Mark Rothko” says Fortune Theatre artistic director, Lara Macgregor. “It was finding a man in his early 20’s to match John on stage, in this rigorous bio-drama, that took more time. Once Cameron Douglas auditioned, there was nobody else I could see doing the role. Securing these two actors who are in such high demand around the country, for a play as evocative and superbly crafted as this, is what makes my job a dream one.”

By John Logan
Production Dates:  14 April – 5 May, 2012
Venue:  The Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 9016
Performances:  6pm Tuesday / 7.30pm Wednesday – Saturday / 4pm Sunday (no show Monday)

Gala (first 5 shows) $32, Adults $40, Senior Citizens $32, Members $30, Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $32
Bookings:    Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin; (03) 477 8323

Cast:  John Bach and Cameron Douglas


RED was first produced by the Donmar Warehouse, London in December 2009, and on Broadway, where it received six 2010 Tony Awards – the most of any play, including best play.

JOHN LOGAN was a successful playwright in Chicago for many years before turning to screenwriting. He gained an Academy Award nomination for co-writing GLADIATOR (which won Best Picture) in 2000. He gained a second nomination for writing THE AVIATOR. Other notable films written by Logan include; STAR TREK: NEMESIS, THE TIME MACHINE and THE LAST SAMURAI. In 2007 he won a Golden Globe Award for the screenplay of the Tim Burton-directed film adaptation of SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. Logan’s most recent films include RANGO, an animated feature starring Johnny Depp and directed by Gore Verbinski, the film adaptation of Shakespeare’s CORIOLANUS directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes, and the film adaptation of THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET directed by Martin Scorsese.

JOHN BACH is a Welsh-born New Zealand actor best known for his major roles in New Zealand Film and Television, including; his role as Madril in the last two movies of THE LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

He has substantial television credits in New Zealand, including the title role of Detective Inspector John Duggan in the police crime series DUGGAN, a regular character in the long-running soap opera CLOSE TO HOME and a recurring character in the Australian TV series FARSCAPE. Prior to completing filming on THE HOBBIT, John starred in THIS IS NOT MY LIFE as the sinister figure Harry Sheridan, and as magistrate Titus Calavius in SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND as well as making a guest appearance in LEGEND OF THE SEEKER. His on screen credits include over 120 films and television shows including GOODBYE PORK PIE, UTU, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, THE LAST TATTOO, THE SOUND AND THE SILENCE.

John’s theatrical credits range from experimental theatre in London to work all over New Zealand including; HOMELAND, BLACKBIRD, YEAR OF THE RAT and last seen at Fortune Theatre in SOMEONE WHO’LL WATCH OVER ME.

CAMERON DOUGLAS last appeared at Fortune Theatre as Princeton and Rod in AVENUE Q. Since graduating from NASDA in Christchurch, he has appeared in EVITA (Stetson Group NZ Tour), OLIVER!, THE 25TH PUTNUM SPELLING BEE and POOR BOY (Auckland Theatre Company), ASSASSINS (Silo Theatre) and over ten productions at The Court Theatre. Television credits include; OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE and LEGEND OF THE SEEKER.

Superb portrayal of Rothko and assistant

Review by Barbara Frame 16th Apr 2012

As full-length plays go, Red is quite short. It requires two actors, and uncomplicated set, and some paint.  

So why does it seem such an audacious undertaking?  

Because of John Logan’s brilliant, Tony award-winning script, because of its towering themes – art, creativity, permanence, the sublime – and because of the demands it makes of its director, its actors and its audience. 

On the surface, it’s about a business relationship: in 1958 Mark Rothko hires Ken as his 9-to-5 assistant, to organise his studio and carry out non-artistic tasks. For Rothko, little seems to exist beyond the dimly-lit studio, his own monolithic egotism and the mystical intensity of his painting. For Ken, however, there is a life outside, and it’s in the fact that beyond the studio there is a wider world in which art, once completed, must survive, that ideas collide.

In recent years the Fortune has brought us other plays about art (Art, The Pitmen Painters), but this is the first to enter so completely into the messy, inspired, perhaps mad process of creation.

The exhilaration of transformation is demonstrated in a well-choreographed sequence where the two men exuberantly yet efficiently prime a large canvas in about a minute. Torment is conveyed later in the play when Ken comes into the studio to find Rothko up to his elbows in something – red.

Director Lara Macgregor is to be congratulated for her patient exploration of the play’s many-layered complexity. John Bach’s Rothko overwhelms us, much as Rothko wants his paintings to do. Cameron Douglas’ Ken seems at first all likeable and eager-to-learn art school graduate, but it soon becomes apparent that he, too, has something to teach.

This is a superb production of a great play, and I warmly recommend it. 


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Always absorbing, at times electrifying; seriously impressive

Review by Terry MacTavish 15th Apr 2012

“People who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them,” said the famous abstract-expressionist artist, Mark Rothko. Is it then blasphemy to use such art as mere decor in a restaurant where only the privileged will eat?

With the shameless guile of the seasoned reviewer, I have invited to Red a friend who just happens to have been a respected Art Department Head, lest I am at a loss to follow what will surely be high level artistic debate. I need not have worried: while Red certainly has depth and authenticity, it is accessible, enthralling entertainment.

Like Rothko I have stood awe struck in Pompeii’s Villa of Mysteries, so overwhelmed and inspired that my first act on acquiring a house was to paint one room entirely and overpoweringly red. To be utterly absorbed in a colour is a breathtaking experience. John Logan in his turn was so moved by Rothko’s red murals that this play had to be written.

It was 1958 when Rothko won the biggest ever art commission: the Seagram murals for the swanky Four Seasons restaurant in New York. After two years working on his stunning red canvases, he reneged on the deal, returning the huge advance fee.

In Red,Logan speculates on the reasons for this dramatic change of heart. Perhaps Rothko thinks he can stay true to his values by creating such powerful works that he will put rich punters off their dinners (he’d paint, he said, “something that would ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room”) but when an idealistic apprentice plucks up the courage to challenge him, he must re-evaluate.

The master/apprentice is an oft-used device in a two-hander, providing a confidant, but also inevitably a rival or threat, and it works because it is based in truth, exemplifying the eternal struggle between old and new. Once Ken the assistant is over his initial awe, the two argue about everything, from Jackson Pollock (admired by Ken, abhorred by Rothko) to the Greek gods (Rothko sees himself as Apollo, battling for truth and order against the chaos of Dionysus: Pollock again).

Even as paintings should evoke emotional and visceral response, so too should theatre, and director Lara Macgregor has produced a play of exuberant intensity to match Rothko’s art. This tension informs all aspects of the production, from the opening, when Rothko fiercely contemplates the audience, positioned where his painting must be, through to the striking image that foreshadows the tragic end to Rothko’s life.

The badinage between the two characters is beautifully paced, taut and thrilling with revelations and surprises, although Macgregor also provides us with neat examples of Rothko’s dictum: “Silence is so accurate.”  However, the highlight that has my artist guest shivering with pleasure is the excitement of the actual physical creation of an art masterpiece.  Cleverly choreographed, Rothko and his apprentice duck and dive around each other, preparing then splashing paint onto a huge canvas with exhilarating energy. Fabulous! 

John Bach has not been on stage here since Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me but his intelligent face and rich voice have proved unforgettable and I am not surprised that he makes the role his own with consummate ease. His Rothko is egotistical, pompous and cruel, but believably brilliant. It is a well-researched and beautifully realised performance by an actor who, like Rothko, is master of his craft. 

Good casting too for the role of the young assistant, an aspiring painter himself, though arrogant Rothko shows not the slightest interest in this. As Ken, Cameron Douglas moves seamlessly from humble admirer in tidy suit to furious antagonist, providing a convincing foil for Bach. Their stimulating verbal battles include a glorious riff on the meaning of ‘red’, in which the young man sees passion and life, while the old reads danger and despair. 

Altogether the production values of Red are quite outstanding, showing that rare thing: an entire theatre company working at the top of its game.

The set, designed by Peter King, is so authentic an artist’s studio that my painter friend is itching to get down onto the stage and start work. The attention to detail is superb, from the paint stained floor to the grubby hand basin. It provokes an exciting sense of anticipation: this is a working space and we will surely witness creation.

The studio is transformed to a thing of beauty by the moody shadows split by mysteriously lovely shafts of light illuminating paintings, while the little stove glimmers red and high windows subtly reveal the passage of time: lighting so luscious it simply has to be the design of Martyn Roberts. It is smoothly operated by Syd Nambiar, along with the classical music playing on Rothko’s gramophone: a delicate soundtrack designed by Lindsay Gordon.

Properties Master Jen Aitken has accomplished the amazing feat, essential for the success of the production, of creating massive paintings that come as close as I can imagine to genuine Rothkos.

Even the programme is a stunner: glossy, elegant and informative, with readable background articles by some very erudite people: a worthy collector’s piece in itself.

Red is a work with depths to be explored, that would reward a second visit: always absorbing and at times electrifying. Like Rothko’s art, it is seriously impressive, and not just for the intelligentsia.

I wait apprehensively for some art world jargon as my knowledgeable friend turns to me at the end. Her face is glowing. ‘This is a cool play!’ she announces emphatically.  


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