Review: The Collaboration, Young Vic

Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope star as artistic legends in The Collaboration but Anthony McCarten’s play at the Young Vic doesn’t thrill

“Painters are like boxers, both smear their blood on the canvas.”

There’s no doubting the quality of the Young Vic’s latest show but I have to say The Collaboration really did leave me cold. Anthony McCarten’s play explores the relationship that developed between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat when they were invited to collaborate on a joint exhibition that posited them at opposite ends of the art world spectrum.

At this point, Warhol was middle-aged and arguably past his prime, and Basquiat was a wunderkind sweeping all before him. But though diametrically opposed, a connection of sorts did evolve, spikier perhaps than outright friendship, and we visit the pair at crucial moments in their joint creative process, thrashing through their differences.

From the point where the Club Kids atmosphere on entry whets the appetite, things quickly become much less exciting. In a play that is mostly two men talking, with the occasional break for some pained expositionary dialogue, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s production does little to invigorate this world. So if you’re not gripped by this pair, there’s little else besides. 

And through a painfully slow first act which is lumbered with far too much awkward set-up, The Collaboration lost me. Post-interval, Paul Bettany’s Warhol and Jeremy Pope’s Basquiat come to life more, with much more interesting fields of conflict and camaraderie to explore. But McCarten’s play is disappointingly formulaic in its treatment of two artistic icons.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
The Collaboration is booking at the Young Vic until 2nd April

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