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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Red
Original Theatre Online Spring 2022

Marcus Brigstocke's two-hander is a play that is not about what it seems to be about through most of its length, but when it finally tells us what it actually is about, it packs a real emotional wallop.

The misdirection may go on a bit too long, but it ultimately serves a powerful play.

A middle-aged man returns from his father's funeral to encounter the ghost, memory or fantasy of the older man. The location is Dad's packed wine cellar, where the ardent oenophile invites his son to open a bottle of particularly fine vintage in his memory.

The catch is that son is a recovering alcoholic, twenty-five years sober but still afraid to try even a sip for fear of a relapse.

The bulk of the play consists of father encouraging (You've proven you're cured), cajoling (Do it for me) and tempting (Just sniff the aroma), while son wavers.

Even at just under an hour's running time, this back-and-forth goes on a little too long, risking the audience losing interest, while we are also pulled back and forth in our sympathies to a point that may make us rebel against the manipulation.

When the play abruptly shifts gears to avoid a spoiler I'll just say that the real question is not whether the son will try the wine but why the question arises at this moment the effect is powerful and the accompanying revelations totally convincing.

So that play, the one The Red really is, leaves a strong and haunting impression of having captured an important and convincing truth.

As directed by Charlotte Peters, both actors in this video version have the challenge of playing characters whose psychology, and our attitude toward them, keep changing.

As the son, Sam Alexander convincingly shows us a man torn between desire and fear without ever quite losing our sympathy even as we wish he would finally make up his mind.

Bruce Alexander has the tougher challenge of making a coherent whole out of a character who is sometimes loving father and sometimes demonic tempter, and while every individual moment works, the pieces don't quite fit together.

The Original Theatre Company likes to believe they are creating a new hybrid of live theatre and film with their online productions. But this wholly polished multiple-camera recording, with its limited action and primary use of close-ups and two-shots, has the look and feel of first-rate television drama.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Red - Original Theatre Online 2022