There’s something wonderfully appealing about seeing a Hollywood star break away from their pedestal to tread the boards of a small West End theatre. Kathleen Turner, Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner (but probably most famous for playing Chandler’s dad in Friends) plays Maude, a working-class mouthy American living in a caravan, who is convinced a ‘hideous’ piece of art she picked up for three bucks is actually by Jackson Pollock. Star of stage and screen Ian McDiarmid couldn’t be more different as Lionel, a pretentious British art expert sent to determine the art’s authenticity. Both excel in their roles in Stephen Sachs’s two-hander but ultimately the play falls short, with a rushed eighty minute run time that realistically should be longer to ensure fleshier character development.
There’s plenty of witty dialogue between the leads and Turner’s foul mouth is just splendid. She vigorously knocks back Jack Daniels and anxiously paces her home, switching from desperate loner to the sharp one who is in control; all with delicious ease. McDiarmid is equally if not more brilliant and it’s the fierce contrast between the two as well as a slightly odd chemistry that maintained my attention and brought about frequent and unanimous laughter from the whole audience.
Polly Teale‘s direction makes fantastic and realistic use of Tom Piper’s brilliantly crafted set with Turner clattering about her kitchen, knocking over utensils and McDiarmid’s tumble off a coffee table being a particular highlight. The Duchess Theatre is tiny but commanding the stage and the audience is not a problem for the two actors; both are obviously exceptionally well-skilled and could do it with their eyes closed.
Whilst Bakersfield Mist is entertaining, I feel as though it is the stars that make it so and not necessarily Sachs’s book. McDiarmid’s journey from uptight and sexually repressed (a rather too deliberate and imaginatively lacking character anyway) to bourbon swigging fiend (he describes Pollock’s penchant for cumming on his work whilst McDiarmid writhes around on the floor) is just so remarkably out of the blue and I couldn’t help but be cheated by the lack of another scene to glue his two personalities together.
Turner and McDiarmid give their encore, and, looking exhausted they receive a well deserved thunderous applause. If you’re a fan of either it’s definitely worth a see but overall, this play is certainly not a piece of art.
Bakersfield Mist is playing the Duchess Theatre until 30 August. For more information and tickets, see the Duchess Theatre website. Photo by Simon Annand.