Garry Roost’s one-hander, Warhol: Bullet Karma, at the Rialto Theatre, as part of the Brighton Fringe, explores aspects of the artist’s life through encounters with various people and reveals the mindsets that drove his pursuit of fame.
A Campbell’s Soup Can might have provided a much-needed flash of colour
With some money from his father to help with fees, Warhol attended college in New York, where he rapidly made a reputation for himself through his original and unconventional works. There he landed his dream job as a commercial artist and soon attracted a coterie of admirers. He set up his studio, workshop and headquarters in a building he called The Factory which became a hotbed of Pop Art culture and a hangout attracting the rich, the famous and the outrageous, becoming notorious for its wild parties. On the edge of this scene was Valerie Solanas, who had published her infamous SCUM Manifesto; a feminist tract in which she created the Society for Cutting Up Men whose aim was their elimination. Following a short dispute with Warhol she arrived at The Factory on June 3rd 1968 and shot him, causing physical and mental injuries that would affect the rest of his life.
This event, observations from contemporaries and sundry pieces of dialogue, in which Roost takes on the various characters, form the substance of this piece, directed by Kenneth Hadley. All is set against the backdrop of a painting in shades of grey and black that features the iconic boxes of Brillo soap pads and the scandalous banana that appeared on the album cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico. Beneath, a few three-dimensional boxes occupy a small table opposite Warhol’s chair. A Campbell’s Soup Can might have provided a much-needed flash of colour.
More colour is also needed in the husky tones he chooses to give to Warhol's voice and that of several others; a lack of differentiation that often obscures their individuality, Francis Bacon being an exception. There’s a lot of monotone morbidity and melancholy reflection, but that to a certain extent captures the man. The under-used stage, with the actions concentrated in a few small areas could be more imaginatievly used to create locations and add more movement within the piece.
Warhol: Bullet Karma has considerable potential, given its subject matter. As Warhol said, “Art is what you can get away with,” and as Roost unfolds the story he gets away with an attention-holding performance.