The Collaboration by Anthony McCarten. The Young Vic, The Cut, London to 2 April 2022. 5*****. William Russell

In 1985at the behest of their dealer Bruno Bischofberger Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat held an exhibition of works they had done together. The critics were not enthusiastic. The inspiration was purely commercial on he part of Bischofberger. Warhol was no longer the idol of the new York art world, famous and at the top of his game, after he had been shot by Valerie Solinas he had turned into a celebrity, stopped painting and incessantly photographed people whereas the heroin addict Basquiat was on the way up. They had known each other for several years from the time when Basquiat was a graffiti artist living on the streets.Putting these idols of the art scene together was seen as likely to produce amazing work – the critics did not think so, the work produced by the chalk and cheese pair was not considered their best. It is this period in their lives that the play explores as the fastidious Warhol photographs everything around him, while the tempestuous younger man back on heroin spills out his rage at the world as he slams the paint on canvass.
Paul Bettany as Warhol, a cool, bleached white ghost fastidiously picking his way around the chaos of Basquiat’s studio and life – a fellow street artist is in hospital dying from a police beating, which has thrown him off balance – is spellbinding to watch. As Basquiat Jeremy Pope throws himself around the stage, an out of control life force. They make a tremendous double act off set by the mercenary dealer and the girl, pregnant by Basquiat, who comes seeking the cash for an abortion. The thing is these are not artists starving in a gutter and selling nothing. They are rich, the darlings of the New York art scene. Kwame Kwei-Armah has directed it so that the tension never falters , the gory, blood stained world of Basquiat, the grimy streets of New York from which he has escaped, and into which the now society butterfly Warhol intrudes is all there. It is a terrific production showcasing two show stopping performances. Warhol’s oft used expression sums it up perfectly. Wow!

Andy Warhol: Paul Bettany.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Jeremy Pope.
Maya: Sofia Barclay.
Bruno Bischoberger: Alec Newman.

Director: Kwame Kwei-Armah.
Set & Costumes: Anna Fleischle.
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson.
Sound Design: Emma Laxton.
Projection Design: Duncan Mclean.
Composer: Ayann Witter-Johnson.
DJ: Xana.
Production photographs.

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