The Collaboration

Young Vic, London

Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope perform in Anthony McCarten’s account of the troublesome friendship between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Rosanna Head

This week we went to see Anthony McCarten’s new play, based on the relationship between  Andy Warhol [Paul Bettany] and Jean-Michel Basquiat [Jeremy Pope].

The story is based on McCarten’s ideological narrative around how the relationship between these two artists – both renowned in their own right – came to be, played out and ultimately accumulated in a multi-million-pound deal.

The play in two parts starts with the artists being creatively persuaded into a collaborative corner that made sense to the pushy art dealer [Alec Newman]. Finding themselves together and starting to play out the notions of their work, questioning what art is and how the other has travelled to where he got to today. How each creates, practices and experiences his art, their processes and what they are about, their very deep sense of self. The difference in personalities is played out energetically yet studiously, as one listens to Jazz while leaping wildly around the stage [Basquiat] creating passionately and off the cuff. While the other takes a more methodical approach to his work [Warhol], even though it has been twenty years since he put paintbrush to paper. Each drawing on different sides of their personalises to challenge the other, yet simultaneously encouraging the other to explore new dimensions not yet crossed.

Pope plays the sensitive and what seems at times vulnerable Basquiat, you wonder if it might have been better for this young artist to have sheltered from the spotlight. Warhol’s work at the time, was described by Basquiat’s character as ‘Old hat’ and Warhol took a disliking to his pictures, but slowly and surely the artists start to understand each other’s ways and form a strong emotional connection.

The second half, the artists are deeply entrenched in an emotional and artistic relationship that they delve into, and what becomes fractious at times. Arguments become fuelled with passion and a battle between outlooks on life, stories, relationships and society – and the fractious juxtaposition between the sheer aged experience of Warhol against the young, free-spirited idealistic Basquiat, culminating in an unfortunate story for the Basquiat crew and ultimately – an emotive unison of creation.

Sofia Barclay in The Collaboration (c) Marc Brenner

The play is placed first in Warhol’s apartment and then Basquiat’s. The set design by Anna Fleischle is cool, contemporary and downtown, loft studio 80’s New York style, while Duncan McLean’s super creative projections create a skyline of colour and shapes. It’s a powerful, emotive and thought-provoking production, and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction includes a DJ set by Xana played loudly in the interval, adding that downtown disco Studio 54 vibe, needless to say, I got my disco moves out.

XANA in The Collaboration (c) Marc Brenner

The Collaboration runs until 2 April 2022 at The New Vic.

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