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Red - Sydney University Dramatic Society (NSW)

Written By John Logan. Presented by Sydney University Dramatic Society

Reviewed by Juliana Payne

Cellar Theatre, Sydney University

Until 23rd March

An engagingly cinematic performance that extends beyond it's independent genre. This is one to venture out of your theatrical circle for!


You really know you’re at an independent theatrical production when the directors are opening the doors and checking the tickets. But don’t let that disturb you – it’s worth cranking up Google Maps to find the Cellar Theatre at the University of Sydney to enjoy this highly engaging performance of John Logan’s 2009 play Red. Set in famous abstract artist Mark Rothko’s studio, it plays out as a kind of Socratic dialogue between himself and his young assistant Ken, on the meaning and purpose of art in the modern world. But don’t let that disturb you either. The dialogue is highly dramatic, funny and emotional – and most important of all performed well by two promising young actors.


The set is striking as you enter: Katarina Butler and Edward Clifford have gone to great lengths to recreate, with wonderful verisimilitude, Rothko’s jam-packed studio – you can smell the paint! With three or four huge red and black murals towering over the audience, you know what you’re in for.


Directors Georgie Eggleton and Nikki Eghlimi use the space and the props well to maintain a sense of quotidian reality – cleaning, painting, eating, drinking, sandpapering, cutting canvas – even while Rothko and Ken debate the meaning of art in their lives and in society at large. They keep the pace up and eschew an interval which is wise. Two-hander dialogue driven plays can weary an audience, but that never happens here.  The ‘duelling banjos’ scene where they rapid-fire word association to each other about what ‘red’ means to them is a stand-out moment in an overall strong performance.

a clever and well thought out production with a strongly unified vision


Absolute kudos to the two actors – Harrison Walker as Mark Rothko, and Sophie Newby as Ken. I don’t know whether they’ve been studying the Method, Stanislavsky or Grotowski, but boy did they hit their marks last night. They both created utterly believable renditions of their characters, with the highly dramatic, ego-driven arrogance and assurance of Rothko slowly crumbling in the face of Ken’s quiet, innocent but ultimately powerful assertion of his perspective. The play is structured in segments that depicts this shift between the characters, and both actors are talented enough to depict the change with skill and authenticity.


This production is unashamedly filmic, and this design and approach is what helps to make it so engaging, even though it follows a well-trodden path of depicting the artist as mad/driven/obsessed/conflicted – think Lust for Life, Amadeus, Pollock, Frida or Camille Claudel. Sound designers Jeremy Jenkins and Justin Leong use music in a very cinematic way – to emphasise mood, character, and action, and to punctuate changes in tone.  n a similar way, the single door to the studio is used to signify the changes in the characters.  Each time they exit, they are not the same person when they return. This is a clever and well thought out production with a strongly unified vision that makes for a very satisfying performance for the audience.



Mark Rothko: Harrison Walker

Ken: Sophie Newby


Art Consultant: Eduardo Forcadilla

Stage Manager: Jack Fahd

Assistant Stage Manager: Aidan Brosnan

Set Designers: Katerina Butler and Edward Clifford

Assistant Set Designer: Aidan Hale

Lighting Designer: Ting-Jen Kuo

Assistant Lighting Designer: Ruby Hawken and Evan Burke

Sound Designers: Jeremy Jenkins and Justin Leong

Costume Designer: Bella Wellstead

Assistant Costume Designers: Scout McWhinney and Zoe Le Marinel

Videographer and Photographers: Izabella Rizzo and Maddie Howse

Graphics: Alex Mcleay

Production Assistants: Shea Berecry and Adelaide Tustain



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