Marcus Brigstocke’s debut play, The Red, was initially commissioned for BBC Radio 4,and it has now headed up to Edinburgh Festival Fringe for a stage run across the whole month. Brigstocke also directs this deeply personal two-hander that looks into what it is to be addicted – and what recovery really means.
Benedict is an alcoholic. (“Hello, Benedict.”) He began drinking in his early teens, but has now been sober for 25 years. It’s the day of his father’s funeral, and he’s escaped to the wine cellar (of all places) to read a letter from his father – and to ponder a disturbing final bequest. His father John was passionate about his wine, accruing a collection of 948 bottles of various kinds; Benedict’s sister has been left the champagnes, but there is one bottle in particular that holds a special place in John’s heart – the 1978 Château Lafite Rothschild. This fine red wine shares a birth year with Benedict, and so his father has decided he’d like Benedict to drink it. Will he risk his recovery for the sake of his father’s memory?
As Benedict reads the letter, he begins to weigh things up by having a conversation with John; real-life father & son actors Bruce & Sam Alexander have been cast, and the fact that they are related does somehow bring a little something extra to the table. The added poignancy of the pair having such a personal conversation, as well as the warmth & understanding of their interactions, brings a feeling of authenticity that can’t be faked.
It’s cleverly written by Brigstocke, with a good balance of humour and reflection; at times it has a feeling of the temptation of Christ (John sees Benedict as being out in the wilderness of his sobriety), as well as exploring the complexity of a father-son relationship (including the generation gap), and considering what it is to be an alcoholic. For some, addiction is seen to be a choice and something that can easily be overcome, but this play explains – in a relatable way, never lecturing – the minutiae of thoughts and processes involved just to make it through the simplest event.
Sensitively and wittily performed by the two Alexanders, The Red is eye-opening as well as entertaining. A moving interaction between father and son.
My verdict? A humorous and emotional two-hander, cleverly written by Marcus Brigstocke – and powerfully performed by a real-life father & son team.
The Red runs at Pleasance Dome (KingDome) until 26 August 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.