21 February 2022
THE COLLABORATION (The Young Vic) Review

Anthony McCarten’s new play is a snapshot of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat working together on 16 canvases that were meant to inspire and reinvigorate both artists.  There is a certain level of artistic license in how events are presented, but it doesn’t really take away from the story except in a few places here and there (e.g., level of animosity, surgical corset, etc.).  The text does feel a little viscous, like the actors are chewing through it.  My biggest issue with the play, however, is the gap between the two acts.  The pair start out with a lot of sniping and distrust, the relationship starts to improve as they continue to work together, then a couple of years go by in the interval, and the second act has them connecting on a much deeper level.  McCarten wants us to infer a whole bunch of things that happened during this gap, and it doesn’t quite work.  If it were me directing, I would’ve done a fast-forward video montage to show the change in the relationship.  Speaking of directing, Kwame Kwei-Armah created a strong production here that feels cohesive and flowing at pace.

Basquiat’s was 32 years Warhol’s junior (though outlived him only by 1.5 years).  Jeremy Pope (playing the former) and Paul Bettany (playing the latter) are only 20 years apart, and, although Bettany does look considerably older than his age, the two don’t feel as removed from one another (in more ways than one) as they ought to be.  That said, Bettany’s transformation is fantastic.  The mannerisms, the tone of voice, it all feels like a genuine Warhol reenactment.  In contrast, Pope ranges from playful to peevish, which doesn’t always work, but suspect that’s a directorial choice.  He is quite joyful to watch though.  Both men hold their own and balance out one another quite nicely.

Alec Newman does well in his role as Bruno Bischofberger, dealer to both artists.  Sofia Barclay plays Basquiat’s girlfriend du jour, but I thought the part itself was completely pointless and doesn’t do anything for the play (not even as a vehicle to introduce Michael Stewart’s story line).  Not going to say much more about plot in case folks want to discover it for themselves.

Emma Laxton’s sound design was a big fat miss for me.  The time before the first act and toward the end of intermission is taken up by a DJ playing music really REALLY loudly.  It was a complete nuisance for my companion and me to yell at one another (blissfully masked) trying to just catch up on things first and then discuss the play later and getting nowhere fast.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £3.

Bonus: Anna Wintour was in the audience tonight.  Wow!

Covid status: Extremely poor.  Very few people in the audience were masked, thereby ignoring the “please wear a face covering” signs that were all over the place.  This is exactly what happens when we stop mandating things and start asking people to be sensible out of the goodness of their hearts…

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