The Collaboration by Anthony McCarten

Reviewer's Rating

I was really excited to see The Collaboration for completely selfish reasons. In another life, I stage-managed a beautiful show called A Thousand Miles of History by Harold Finley, which was also about this wonderful period in 1970s/80s New York and the relationships between Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. A Thousand Miles proudly received rave reviews and The Collaboration could, and should be no different for reasons I will explain, but I promise, I’ll put my bias to one side. 

The Young Vic are known for pushing boundaries and colouring outside the lines, much like the artists portrayed here. Jeremy Pope plays the talented and troubled Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Paul Bettany, the commercially viable Andy Warhol, who’s perhaps already at minute 14 of his 15 minutes of fame when the two decide (or are cajoled) into working together and presenting an exhibition of their work in 1984. Basquiat and Warhol’s collaboration was a 3 year discourse resulting in a mediocre showcase. Both artists died before the turn of the 90s. 

Art hangs along the aisleways en route to our seat, more instantly recognisable as Warhol’s while I can only assume depending where you’re sitting, you get a preview of Basquiat, graffitied over the walls, including the little crown that so many clothing brands have bastardised since. A DJ (Xana) sporting an orange blazer and studded leather scratches away at a deck, and we are thrown back to the days of The Factory and Studio 54, although the garb is more Rikers’ Island chic. Both artists built their own prisons, trapped in the hype that catapulted them into the public eye, and the consumerism that dominated the ethos of the 80s- probably our most self-obsessed era. What McCarten has done here is dissect the friendship of two artists (and they were close friends) who were chalk and cheese, but essentially opposite ends of the same horseshoe. They were hypocrites caught up in their own rhetoric and predictions, calling out selfish capitalism while keeping stacks of money in the fridge, but hey, all artists are hypocrites, so we can let that one slide. 

Warhol is to baby boomers what Basquiat is to Gen Z. Warhol’s cynicism grates against Basquiat’s poser integrity, but despite their clashes (over decor, musical taste, race and even the purpose of art), they are certainly more alike than probably either care to admit. McCarten’s piece perfectly and accurately captures the essence of both artists and their discourse, and it is paced very well. Jeremy Pope is fantastic as Jean Michel Basquiat, capturing his despair and heroin energy with real care, and Paul Bettany is excellent as the stiff and socially awkward Warhol along with his cutting and dry sense of humour (I remember a story I heard of when Warhol was shot; a friend was cradling him as they waited for the ambulance to arrive, crying “you’re going to be ok, hold on” etc, and Warhol replied “don’t make me laugh”, trying not to laugh while trying to keep his organs from spilling, literally). 

I cannot recommend this show enough. Go and see it while you can.