The Young Vic Theatre plays host to an exciting new play featuring a real-live Avenger. Well, a dead Avenger anyway. The multi-award winning Paul Bettany teams up with the star of Pose and Hollywood, Tony award nominated Jeremy Pope to bring us the world premiere of The Collaboration.
Set in New York in the 1980s, The Collaboration sees Bettany and Pope play legendary artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Based on the real collaborative project the pair did over the course of three years, the play imagines what their relationship was like during this collaboration and what they talked about during their process. Throughout the course, references and comparisons to boxing fill the dialogue which feels fitting considering we are witnessing two champion actors in their own fields playing two heavyweight artists.
Written by Anthony McCarten, the play is split in two acts showing different points during the collaboration. Act one sees the build up of the two working together and how they try to find a way to work together despite their different methods as the project starts. The second act sees the action leap forward three years as the project nears its conclusion. While the first act may be a little slow to get going, the second act is thrilling from start to finish, though perhaps slightly jarring how different the tone becomes in comparison from the first.
With someone as well regarded as Paul Bettany in the production, you would expect world class acting and that's exactly what he does. Finding a new twist on such an iconic figure like Andy Warhol is no easy task but Bettany does it with ease, giving a nuanced masterclass performance as the complicated and quiet artist. As the play reaches its climax, there is a wonderful moment where Bettany goes from one extreme to the other, revealing his own truths in what is harrowing and fantastically played out dialogue.
As Jean-Michele Basquiat, Jeremy Pope has a lot more to work with as his character in respects is the polar opposite to Bettany's Warhol. Giving a versatile performance, his character has a much bigger trajectory when it comes to change in characterisation over the course of the play. Watching Popes interpretation of Basquiat was awe-inspiring - absolutely incredible encompassing the troubled artist. A key moment towards the shows close is a testament to Popes talent where no words are needed to convey the anguish and emotions Basquiat is feeling.
The chemistry Bettany and Pope have with eachother leaps off the stage, creating a sense of authenticity as the growing relationship between the pair never feels unbelievable. A sense of impending doom lures over the action with the knowledge both artists sadly died not long after this collaboration finished. Though the tragedy isn't incorporated in the story, it makes the story all the more poignant.
Predominantly a two-hander between Bettany and Pope, there are two other characters that have small but memorable roles. We have to talk about Bruno, played by Alec Newman who provides humour as he flits between the two artists in an attempt to orchestrate the collaboration. Sofia Barclay is wonderful as Maya - with little stage time, she makes a huge impression.
Brilliantly directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah with set design by Anna Fleischle transporting the action from both Warhols and Basquiats studios with fun details hidden around the set. A fantastic use of video projections by Duncan McLean gives another layer to the play with the audience seeing the world from Warhols perspective as he films the action on his camera.
Themes such as dealing with your own talent and fame are played out with sensitivity, while the show takes a more sinister term in the second act as the pair unravel to reveal insecurities, grappling with addiction and a captivating yet difficult to watch part about police brutality and racism in the 80s - an issue we all know is still happening to this day.
A truly gripping play to watch, watching Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope give the performance of their lives on that stage felt incredibly special. Acting like I have never witnessed before, The Collaboration is a mesmerising watch. While the leap between the start of the project to the end across both acts was a brilliant idea in terms of narrative, I would have liked to have seen more from the middle of the collaboration, but that is probably down to me selfishly wishing the play was even longer.
With The Collaboration being turned into a movie, catch it at the Young Vic while you can. An art to the testament of great storytelling, this is guaranteed to be a night you will never forget.
The Collaboration plays at the Young Vic until April 2nd. Most tickets are sold out but check https://www.youngvic.org/ for returns.