BWW Reviews: A THOUSAND MILES OF HISTORY, The CLF Art Cafe at The Bussey Building, March 9 2013

By: Mar. 11, 2013
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In grim mid-seventies Britain, music had become moribund - a money-spinning blandness machine churning out commodities for an increasingly uninterested public. That cosy world was to be swept away on the howl from the streets that was punk rock.

In grim late-seventies New York, art was in that same rut and, as with British music, it was to be changed forever by a bunch of outsiders from the street who were picked up by a few savvy PR operators and produced an extraordinary starburst of creativity. As with punk, not all of them would survive the ride.

A Thousand Miles of History (at The CLF Art Cafe in The Bussey Building until 30 March) tells the story of the two tragic heroes of that revolution - Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. They rocketed from graffiti slogans to gallery openings so quickly that none of their rough edges were knocked off; and none of their appetites sated. And what appetites! It was sex and drugs and rap and roll-ups. And fame - more and more fame. They craved that greatest intoxicant of all. Sure enough, fame's Philosopher-King, Andy Warhol, was there with them - half-loving, half-hating his ideas given screaming life by these charismatic kids who worshipped him for the very quality they were usurping.

These three legendary figures could so easily become parodies in the hands of less skilled actors, but writer-director Harold Finley's ambitious script is magnificently realised by performances that would not be out of place in a production with one hundred times the budget.

Michael Walters brings out all of Basquiat's charisma, all of his conflicts (with his father, with his art, with himself) and all of his comet-like impact on a world unprepared for this force of nature. His physical resemblance to the artist is remarkable and Walters' ability to stretch and shrink as his confidence ebbs and flows (and stutter too in his father's malign presence) is extraordinary. Simon Ginty captures Haring's wide-eyed innocence, the country boy ex-"Jesus freak" who discovers himself in sex and coke and who knows that it wasn't going to last forever - and accepts his fate. Adam Riches' Warhol doesn't match the uncanny lookalikes elsewhere on stage, but he assumes Warhol's bitchy charm, his wit and wisdom and, in a moving speech delivered directly to the audience, his vulnerability. To call it a turn would be unfair, but it's certainly a show within a show and Riches might need to find a bit more space on a mantelpiece already laden with awards before he's done with this dream of a part.

The support cast would do well just to live with these three, but they do more than that, with Joseph Mydell greasily ambitious as Basquiat's scheming father and Lisa Carrucio Cam utterly believable as the hard-nosEd Gallery owner who really does look after her kids.

There's more, much more, in this blockbuster of a play in which the ideas, laughter and tears keep coming relentlessly for over two hours: brilliant use of back projection; ingenious manipulation of sliding screens to create spaces on stage; perfect period costumes and music; a chilling evocation of the 80s fear of AIDS; a glimpse at the nascent cult of celebrity in a media age just prior to 24/7 news and then some too. Most of all though, Harold Finley has created a compelling piece of theatre about remarkable men living in remarkable times - and you can't ask for much more than that.

Photo Jane Hobson



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