Let’s get it out of the way. Yes, Adam Riches is in this play, mainly as Andy Warhol. Yes, he’s very good – in fact, some of his creepier sketch characters now seem like groundwork – but it’s not stunt casting, the guy was an actor before he started alternately creasing-up and terrifying comedy audiences across Britain. But it turns out that Riches is just one of a bunch of excellent reasons to see this play.
The story follows Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring from their street art days in New York through their rise and eventual fall, but it’s not really a play about art. It’s a play about love and friendship and sex and death and fame and money and ambition and screwing everything up and falling apart. Yet writer and director Howard Finley makes sure it wears its themes lightly and with humour, keeping the heavy stuff for when it’s really needed, like the horrifying scenes of Basquiat’s descent into junkie mess.
A quick note on Michael Walters, playing Basquiat: he is sublime. Louche and oozing sex one minute, haggard and despairing the next. But his programme bio is literally one and a half sentences long; this is only his second professional stage job since graduating RADA. If you’ve ever wished you were one of the people who saw, say, Ben Whishaw before he exploded into the theatrical consciousness in Hamlet at the Old Vic, we can only recommend heading to Peckham tout de suite.
The other performances are also wonderful. Simon Ginty, another recent graduate, is sweet and vulnerable as Haring; Lisa Caruccio Came has a steely core as gallery owner Mary Boone; veteran Shakespearean thesp Joseph Mydell has class and stateliness as Basquiat’s father and James Kermack displays fantastic comic timing in multiple roles.
It’s kind of ironic that a play absolutely rooted in New York made us love London all the more, but this is the glory and beauty of the city’s theatre scene. You can rock up to a freezing converted warehouse in south east London, hand over less than £14 and be blasted by a fantastic new piece of work.
A Thousand Miles of History is on at the Bussey Building (Theatre Local), 133 Rye Lane, Peckham, until 30 March. Tickets £14 / £12 / £10. For more information see the A Thousand Miles of History website. We saw this show on a press ticket.