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Review: The Red (Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh)

Marcus Brigstocke writes and directs his debut play, dealing with the subject of alcoholism

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The Red
© Karla Gowlett

Marcus Brigstocke has been vocal in the past about his struggles with alcoholism – a problem that plagued him during his youth and has resulted in over 20 years of teetotalism. He now channels his experiences into his debut play, The Red, a charmingly straightforward yet comprehensive two-hander which premieres at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Performed by real life father-son duo Bruce and Sam Alexander, the show sees the lead character, former alcohol addict Benedict, sitting in a wine cellar to escape the family wake going on upstairs. He reads a note left by his late father (who appears, ghostlike) asking him to try a bottle of wine – a very fine, perfectly wrought 1978 bottle of red – as a toast to their lives together. It's been 20 years since Benedict had a drop – what damage could be done? Surely it won't be a problem now?

It feels like a slightly contrived premise for a show (surely Benedict's dad wouldn't make such a dick move?) but Brigstocke writes well and with consistent nuance. An addiction to alcohol is less about the alcohol and more about the addiction and, in spite of everything, an addiction can return with a vengeance, whenever it likes. Even after two decades, it can still simmer beneath the surface.

Brigstocke directs the piece with pedestrian straightforwardness – natural blocking, lots of perching on wine crates. The titular bottle of red sits, innocently, at the centre of the stage, holding the limelight. But it's all rather static, and isn't hard to see why the piece began as a radio play. Another major problem is that the younger Alexander doesn't bring much by way of verve or excitement to the role of Benedict. He's decidedly one-note for the majority of the show and, despite a fantastically dexterous performance from the elder Alexander as Benedict's father, you long for Brigstocke himself to take to the stage and inject a bit more energy into the hour.