Basquiat and Warhol’s ‘intimate friendship’ explored in Young Vic drama

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Jeremy Pope and Paul Bettany play the art legends in The Collaboration staged by artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah

It promised to be a knockout exhibition, with both artists wearing boxing gloves on the poster. But the eagerly anticipated 1985 show of joint works by old master Andy Warhol and bright new star Jean-Michel Basquiat was thumped by critics when it opened in New York. Now, the story behind the exhibition is being told in a new play at the Young Vic theatre in London.

The world premiere of Anthony McCarten’s drama The Collaboration will be staged by the Young Vic’s artistic director, Kwame Kwei-Armah, with Paul Bettany (Wandavision) playing Warhol and Jeremy Pope (One Night in Miami) as Basquiat. Kwei-Armah said the production, which will be designed by Anna Fleischle, “invites us behind the iconography and fame, and inside the intimate friendship between two artists”. The story would ask audiences “to lean in closely and challenge our preconceptions” he added.

The relationship between the artists, and the question of whether each was exploiting the other’s fame, is also the subject of a new play by Ishmael Reed which opens in the US next month. The Slave Who Loved Caviar is at Theater for the New City in New York.

Related: Rodgers and Hammerstein: cosy box-office bankers or radical trailblazers?

The Collaboration opens at the Young Vic in February and will be followed by a transfer of a Tony award-winning, re-orchestrated production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! directed by Daniel Fish that, Kwei-Armah said, “unlocks a fresh perspective on a great American musical”. The Guardian’s Michael Billington called the 2019 Bard SummerScape production “extraordinary” and wrote that “nothing was as expected” in this revival of the well-worn musical. At New York’s Circle in the Square, the set was designed as a community centre and the audience ate chilli that had been cooked on stage during the interval. The revival is billed by the Young Vic as “funny and sexy, provocative and probing, without changing a word of the text”.

The Young Vic’s spring season announcement included the news that Deirdre McLaughlin is the 2021 Genesis Future Directors award recipient and will direct a new show in the studio space. The theatre’s Five Plays strand will see a series of five-minute plays, by the playwrights babirye bukilwa, Gaël Le Cornec, Martin Crimp, Erinn Dhesi and Mufaro Makubika, to be directed by James Barnes, David Furlong, David Gilbert, Abigail Sewell and Khadifa Wong. The Young Vic will also be inviting artists to explore the medium of TikTok as part of its Creative Headspace scheme, designed to support early-career theatre-makers, created in response to the devastating impact of the pandemic on arts freelancers.

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