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October 2004
Samo Is Dead at the Burton Taylor
The Burton Taylor
The Burton Taylor


Samo Is Dead by Michael Donkor
The Burton Taylor

Tuesday 9 November - Saturday 13 November 2004

9:30pm performances

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By Laura Morton

Samo is dead. But who is Samo? And why is that strange woman powdering her nose so nervously? Or the drunk so filled with vitriol?

Samo, it turns out, is a graffiti artist. Tonight is to be his reincarnation as John Michel Basquiat, a serious artist in the New York art scene, 1987. The stage is set for the party with balloons and an assortment of 1980s paraphernalia at the back. The only person missing is Samo.

We are introduced to his girlfriend, Fabio, his art-dealer, Cortès and the now-ageing and rather camp Andy Warhol, the characters of this 3-hander. The man himself is but fleetingly incarnated through Andy's ironic use of an OHP to demonstrate his nondescript upbringing.

And yet this figure holds those on stage so powerfully that there must be a reason for the pull. They are united only in their claims upon the man. His absence explains the void at the heart of the play, if not in the characters' lives.

The superficiality of the art scene is conveyed through a blend of accent, costume and characterisation: Fabio's frenetic movements and mindlessly enthusiastic coke-snorting, Andy's drawling and jaded air which appears only partly affected and Cortès' grovelling attentions: a superb side-kick lacking his owner.

Soon enough, it becomes clear that these characters have no real hold over the mythical Samo. Their need for him, for his talent and marketability fills the play. That Samo is black only heightens his appeal.

It also allows the characters to soliloquise, each in turn adopting Iago's lines from Othello. This conveys their manipulations of Samo, their patronising of his race and perceived credulity. Andy's spaced-out recital of Othello's final speech shows a realisation of their ultimate failure, and of Samo's, or John's, independent success.

An entertaining play, combining strong acting with a novel view of 1980s New York.

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