Although it has just opened at the Young Vic, The Collaboration has already announced its Broadway transfer and a film version. With a script that has Oscar ambitions written all over it, just how good is this play?
King of the biopics Anthony McCarten is holding the pen here as he did on Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour and The Theory of Everything, all of which won (and warranted) Academy Awards. His latest opus takes us to the early 1980s and two artists who couldn’t be more different.
Before joining the 27 Club, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s aggressive and provocative style took him from being a homeless junkie and prostitute to acclaim as the hottest painter of the era, creating works that would eventually sell for over $110m.
Paired by their common agent despite their huge apparent differences in style and philosophical outlook, Basquiat (Jeremy Pope) and Andy Warhol (Paul Bettany) eventually crafted a series of works which explored both their worlds.
McCarten’s script is packed to the brim with quotes, including cynical pokes at modern life (“now that excellence has lost its meaning, a brand name is all we can aspire to”) but, in building up our knowledge of these artists and their pasts, we’re forced to wade through some seriously clunky exposition; flashbacks will likely be a big part of the film.
The two central characters are brought vividly to life principally through Young Vic AD Kwame Kwei-Armah’s electric direction; the interchanges between the young mixed-race livewire and the languid albino-like 50-something are often utterly mesmerising. Alex Newman gamely plays the duo’s agent Bruno but Sofia Barclay’s part as Basquiat’s ex is underwritten almost to the point of obsolescence.
This play will likely work better as a film, and you can’t ignore the awkwardness of some of the writing. Foibles aside, it’d easily be a five-star show; there is no denying the powerful performances and how they light up the stage over the barely-noticeable two-hour-plus running time.
As Warhol says at one point, “where does the time go, and why do we keep going there?”
The Collaboration, Young Vic, £10-£50, until 2 April
Last Updated 28 February 2022