Bakersfield Mist

Eight years on from her triumphant performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Kathleen Turner returns to the London stage with another powerhouse turn in this new play by Stephen Sachs, where her brash, expletive-spouting ex barmaid proves a perfect foil for Ian McDiarmid’s eccentrically twitchy performance as a pompous New York art expert. But while both actors in this two-hander never fail to entertain and hold our attention, they are ultimately let down by a text that never really goes anywhere.

Turner plays Maude, an unemployed single woman who life hasn’t dealt the best hand living in a trailer park in Bakersfield. She thinks she may have found a way out of this life after buying a painting for a few dollars from a thrift store that she believes may be an unknown work by abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. If authenticated it could be worth millions.

Enter Lionel (Ian McDiarmid), flown in by private jet from the Big Apple to pass judgement and thereby either make Maude’s day or trample all over her dreams.

What follows is fairly standard culture clash stuff; Lionel’s delicate sensibilities repulsed by practically everything that the desperate Maude says and does, while Maude struggles to understand the “tingle” that Lionel feels when he just knows a work to be real. But gradually the power shifts as the pair start to reveal more about themselves, with Maude perhaps having a bit more nous than Lionel gives her credit for.

Sachs’ script contains some neat one-liners and stinging exchanges that are delivered with aplomb by the two actors, and the idea of the audience never actually getting a look at the painting under discussion is a neat and tantalising touch. But even at a relatively short 85 minutes, the idea soon wears a little thin and it begins to feel like we’re going over the same ground, while one particular dramatic moment doesn’t bear too much scrutiny in terms of logic.

Turner and McDiarmid are both consummate stage actors who would probably struggle to turn in a poor performance and as a result they probably make Bakersfield Mist a better play than it actually is.

Reviewed by Tony Peters


Bakersfield Mist is playing at the Duchess Theatre until 30 August 2014. Click here to book tickets.