I’ve been a fan of comedian Marcus Brigstocke for a while, so I was very excited at the chance to review his hour long two hander, The Red. The concept of the play is beautifully simple – Benedict’s dad has passed away and amongst his last will and testament is a letter for Benedict, inviting him to visit the family’s well stocked wine cellar and enjoy an extra special bottle of red wine with which he shares a birthday. The problem is, Benedict is an alcoholic and has been in recovery and sober for 25 years.
The drama was originally commissioned for BBC Radio 4 and the intention for this to be an aural experience stands out in the writing. The dialogue feels genuine, familiar and comfortable as Benedict and his father paint a picture of a life lived together, of other family members and key events like weddings and birthday parties. Benedict and John, his father, are portrayed by a real life father and son acting duo, Bruce and Sam Alexander, and this perhaps adds to the fluidity and the feelings of angst and passion and real love and concern that the two show for each other. The dialogue is witty and pacey, and father and son bounce off each other almost like a verbal tennis rally. The acting is sublime, but for me the real star of the show is the writing.
Brigstocke writes from his own experience of recovery from addiction, and Benedict’s experiences – both personal and those he witnessed in others – will ring true for anyone who knows someone who has struggled with addiction. The broken promises, the desperation, the fear of relapse; wondering if you’re doing the right thing, if you’re helping or contributing, wondering if they’re ok but being scared of the answer. Brigstocke neatly pinpoints the role that alcohol plays in current society – John loves wine, it is almost his language, his connection to friends and family, and when his son stops drinking he feels that it impacts their relationship. Benedict meanwhile talks of feeling isolated when out with friends, and the two go round and round circling the terrifying question of whether one drink would be ok…
As someone who has at times questioned whether they maybe drink a bit too much, but hasn’t ever felt compelled to stop, and who has seen people close to me struggling with substance abuse, The Red touched all sorts of nerves but in a way that I found reassuring rather than out and out triggering. It provided a reminder that we’re all, in our own way, just doing our best and taking each day at a time. And whether you have personal experience of the topics tackled or not, this is a warm, funny, sharply perceptive piece of drama that is as likely to make you laugh out loud as shed a tear.
The Red is available online until 16th June 2022 via https://originaltheatreonline.com/productions/34/the-red-by-marcus-brigstocke
Reviewer: Zoe Meeres
Reviewed: 17th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★