Eighties culture is a cliche to us now: big earrings, dodgy perms and Saved By The Bell repeats.
New play A Thousand Miles of History, written and directed by Harold Finley at the Bussey building in Peckham, takes us to New York and reintroduces us to a deeper, more vibrant idea of what the Eighties were like.
It opens boldly with art scene hanger-on Rene Ricard (a camp, dry Michael Palmer) taking us to the start of the decade, twenty years after Andy Warhol's Campbell soup tin heyday. Beginning life as inspired graffiti artists, the duo of Jean-Michel Basquiat (Michael Walters is stunningly good as impassioned drug-loving young artist) and Keith Haring (bespectacled, earnest Simon Ginty) break into the gallery world and we follow their trajectory from success and drug-fuelled parties to their fall out of the limelight.
It's a sometimes comic, sometimes bleak look at the paradox of the art world: however hard they try to avoid being the sell-out, Basquiat and Haring both struggle to tread the line between the ability to sell a painting for hundreds of thousands of bucks, and creating work which speaks for the people. Basquiat's grappling with identity and race is mirrored by Haring's quest to get his work to the masses.
There's nuanced character work from the principle players in the urban jungle's art obsession, whether it’s art gallery owner Mary Boone (a slightly sinister Lisa Caruccio Came), Joseph Mydell as Basquiat's father trying to educate the world (through press interviews) that a “black middle class family” isn't unusual, and Haring's gay lover (played by Miles Mitchell). Watch out for a brilliantly deadpan, tongue-in-cheek performance of an older Andy Warhol by comedian Adam Riches, silver blonde wig and all.
Designer Mike Lees’ sliding white backdrops are lit up with a moving projection by Tommy Lexen so the artists can "paint". Script-wise there’s an interesting mix of styles – mashing up monologues and physical theatre which somehow doesn’t jar, even giving us brief splashes of gay subculture from a steam-filled sauna to nightclub raving.
Although the production tries too hard to be relevant with its final moment of a modern day figure graffiti-ing the back wall, A Thousand Miles of History ends up a textured and bold reclaiming of an era which can be too easily dismissed.