Warhol: Bullet Karma invites you to meet everyone’s favourite eccentric pop artist. We bear witness to Andy Warhol as he tells of his Pennsylvania roots, his move to New York and the establishment of the famous ‘Factory’. We meet a collection of revered contemporaries such as Edie Sedgewick and Valerie Solonas. Garry Roost’s detailed and technically brilliant performance succeeds in resurrecting the legendary artist. Roost remains steady on the tightrope of caricature and authenticity - an inevitable risk with such a character. This Warhol conjures enough of what we already know while also suggesting hitherto only propounded traits. However, Warhol’s movement remains often static, lacking in the dynamism of his voice. The confessional style of the piece drags at first; the blocking feeling misplaced as Roost switches between talking to a camera and breaking out to the audience – which works insofar as demonstrating the character’s insecurities and care for the opinion of others as well as the intriguing divide between the public and private.
A Popping Performance worthy of a Pop Artist
The first act’s story is crafted skilfully but consistently monotone, keeping us from surrendering our full attention just yet. Early fragments featuring other characters are a saving grace for pacing. Fortunately, as the play continues new gears are found, the story snowballs quickly and what seemed odd becomes natural. The character switches vary in success - the switch is understood but the tone and rhythm of the scene remains often uninterrupted. It becomes clear that the play’s world does not seek to bring its story down to earth but remain heightened with its enlarged Warhol as our guide - suiting and reflecting Warhol’s distinctive artistic style.
All of the characters presented feel enjoyably vibrant and their colours do indeed ‘pop’ although a couple do not feel fully separated from the core performance or like fully formed characters. While the tone of the characters is apparent, that of the overall piece and its encapsulation of the time and character is let down by a lack of flair in its stagecraft. Basic lighting, uninteresting audio and a lack of care for props keep the piece from feeling fully thought through. ‘Why is this relevant now’ is quickly answered through the inclusion of issues such as mental health, fame and power, positing interesting insights for today; not to mention one particular tone in Warhol’s voice that sounds oddly Trump-esque - an intentional point or honest coincidence? Indeed, sneering references to the “seduction of the inner American desire” do seem to point right towards Trump’s America.
As the play circles its landing Roost and the piece’s director, Kenneth Hadley’s reverence for their subject as a lens to which regard our culture of today become clear – one feels aware that a point is being made that while true talent and genius worthy of such fame has faded, it is not unable of rising again. A skilled performance and a layered story make Warhol: Bullet Karma a more than worthy way to spend your 11:45 - 12:45 this Fringe.