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The Collaboration

by on 18 March 2022

Pop Art Popped

The Collaboration

by Anthony McCarten 

YV Company at the Young Vic, London until 2nd April

Review by Heather Moulson

Entering through graffiti-lined walls, we, as an audience, walk into a Studio 54, a setting which is very New York and atmospheric.  We appreciate the culture of disco hits and slide shows of that era, even if it’s a little deafening!

The “greatest exhibition in the history of modern art”, that was the expectation in 1984 when Andy Warhol the established (maybe too established) doyen of American pop art, and wild kid on the art block, Jean-Michel Basquiat agreed to work together on a joint collaborative project, culminating in an exhibition in the autumn of 1985. 

At twenty-four, Basquiat was a drug-addict and an activist, but was the rapidly rising star of the art world.  Fifty year-old Warhol had been at the top for many years, but his star was beginning to dim.  This unlikely collusion was to develop in a “bromance”, but it was not to end well.

The Collaboration starts with a deceptively simplistic set and a young scornful Jean-Michel Basquiat, who sneers about Andy Warhol being passé, while the shrewd Swiss agent, Bruno Bischofberger skilfully negotiates a collaboration between these two artists.

A cat-and-mouse effect is then ensues in Warhol’s studio, a play-off with the main prize being mutual respect and understanding of the other’s generation.   Paul Bettany plays Warhol intelligently, even though he occasionally comes over as whiney.   American actor, Jeremy Pope is impressive as the vibrant Jean-Michel.  He has the right amount of arrogance and outlook, complimenting Andy’s jaded persona.  The two actors have a very tangible chemistry, which unravels nicely to the fact that their characters needed each other.

The second act takes us to three years later, and inside Jean-Michel’s studio.  Their collaboration and friendship has been a huge success, however Jean-Michel is now taking heroin and stashing money, which he recklessly spends, in his refrigerator.  He sways on the border of spiralling out of control.   A tragedy for a mutual friend threatens to tip him over.  Andy, now verging on the father figure, whilst wearing his own neuroses on his sleeve, tries to advise Jean-Michel against his car-crash existence.  Meanwhile, Jean-Michel works on a canvas facing the audience.  The set is cleverly backlit with the cine effect of Warhol’s filming, giving us a glimpse of what he is painting: effective and cleverly carried out.

The lighting, designed by Mark Henderson, while initially unassuming, speaks volumes with a powerful effect, unravelling the strength of the text.  The strong acting gives us an insight into these famous artists who died within just over a year of each other.  This is beautifully done and very sharply directed.

The only way it could end was the success and the obscene amount of money these paintings brought.  

We are satisfied with the fitting end … plus amazed at the provocative tins of paint at the front of the set not spilling over.  The two lead actors are consistent with their rapport and relationship, and they are nicely supported by Sofia Barclay and Alec Newman, as Maya and Bischofberger, respectively.

A clever set designed by Anna Fleischle and intelligent writing by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) are the foil for the astute acting.  The play is directed in sharp detail by Kwame Kwei-Armah, the artistic director of the Young Vic theatre.  Highly recommended – get there quickly! 

Heather Moulson, March 2022

Photography by Marc Brenner

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