This psychological examination of what it means to be an addict is surprisingly moving – but it does feel as though it goes around in circles.
It is wonderful to see that digital theatre is still being produced – and the quality is still of the highest standard. This can be seen in Original Theatre’s new digital production of Marcus Brigstocke’s The Red which delves deep into what it truly means to be an addict and the ongoing struggle to protect recovery from it.
The Red is a conversation between a father and son (the father in ghost form) discussing a bottle of red wine that the father has left the son who is a recovering alcoholic a bottle of red wine which then leads to a more detailed discussion of the struggles of being a recovering alcoholic and how someone can become an addict. Written by Marcus Brigstocke, the play has depth and seriousness about it but also moments of warmth and humour that keep the piece feeling intimate and engaging.
Directed by Charlotte Peters, the production sharply and effectively highlights the underlying drama during the quieter moments – such as the way in which son Benedict contemplates a glass of wine from the bottle he opens or the way in which he suggests that he can have a glass of something on ‘special occasions’ and how fast it quickly can spiral out of control back into addiction again. Each moment is framed beautifully with each switch in perspective that enhances the inner conflict and turmoil that Benedict feels, while being challenged by his father who doesn’t understand the power and nature of addiction and its lasting consequences.
While there is a lot of depth and detail to the writing, it does feel that the play itself goes round in circles as it searches for answers that are just always tangibly out of reach for the characters and audience. It is a shame as this can mean that it loses focus and doesn’t seem to drive the story forward – yes there are no easy answers but it could have gone a little bit further to promote further discussion and understanding.
The performances from both Bruce and Sam Alexander (real-life father and son) are both highly engaging to watch in revealing the relationship between the fictional father and son in a heartwarming and affectionate way. But Sam Alexander in particular gives and emotionally complex performance as Benedict – conflicted between the perils of starting to drink again but also recognising the joys of drinking as well. The way in which he recounts some other addicts life stories and experiences is a particularly memorable moment in the play and in terms of the way it is brought to life though the performance of Sam.
While The Red is certainly powerful and interesting look at addiction, it feels as though it goes around in circles too many times that can mean it loses some of its impact – we understand Benedict’s conflict – but it would have been interesting to see how he chooses to move forward from it as well.
By Emma Clarendon
The Red is available to stream on demand through Original Theatre until the 16th June.