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Phil Willmott

Review of Bakersfield Mist

Bakersfield Mist Everybody loves dinner after a show in the West End but it has to be the right show to give you time for a bite and your journey home afterwards. Now, thanks to producer Nica Burns there’s BAKERSFIELD MIST, a perfectly formed slice of drama, starring real life, Hollywood royalty that whizzes through in barely 90 minutes leaving you plenty of time to search out that perfect Covent Garden eatery for supper, a glass of wine and a chat about what you’ve seen.

And you’ll have plenty to talk about because this little play stars the legendary Kathleen Turner star of eighties movies like BODY HEAT, ROMANCING THE STONE, PRIZZI’S HONOUR, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED and THE WAR OF THE ROSES. She’s older now of course but she’s still a phenomenal looking woman. Tall, expansive and with a mane of blonde hair she explodes on to the stage like a force of nature, rasping her lines with a deep, almost manly voice that can be purringly seductive or a lethal weapon.

She plays Maude who lives in a trailer park in the Middle of Nowhere, Small Town, Rural America. Maude likes to buy paintings in thrift shops and there’s plenty of examples on the walls of Tom Piper’s evocative and cluttered set. The trouble is by most people’s standards they’re pretty hideous. Garish studies of clowns and landscapes hang amongst the debris of years of hoarding. One day Maude decides to buy the ugliest picture she can find as a joke birthday present for her neighbour Roberta. The result is so hideous even Roberta doesn’t see the funny side so when Maude decides to get rid of it in a yard sale she’s amazed when the local art teacher tells her it could be by the famous artist Jackson Pollock and worth millions. She registers the discovery with art traders in New York, requesting authentication and the play opens with her welcoming their uptight, snobbish expert into her home.

He’s played by the reptilian looking Ian McDiarmid, one of our greatest actors who you may know as the Emperor from Star Wars. Maude works hard to be hospitable and keep her temper in check but from the first moments Lionel is judgemental, condescending and sarcastic. True he’s come a long way and survived an onslaught from Roberta’s dogs to make what he assumes will be a five minute evaluation confirming the picture’s a fake but it’s hard to like him. However, as you can imagine, the play will chip away at the differences between them and they’ll find they have a lot in common. Maude wears her hard life for all to see, Lionel is buttoned up and guarded but it’s obvious he’s just as vulnerable underneath as she is on the surface.

Having set up this fascinating encounter, the challenge for playwright Stephen Sachs is how to break down the barriers between then and get them talking honestly and openly about each other for our benefit. He achieves this by having the art boffin get carried away with a description of Pollock’s working methods which involve rolling around in the paint, splattering it across the canvas in a frenzy and, this is what really consumes Lionel, ejaculating over the painting!

By the time our man’s got hot and bothered over all that he’s ready to accept Maude’s slug of Jack Daniel’s and with a little bourbon in his belly he loosens up to reveal the disappointments in his career and marriage. The thing is, clever old Maude’s researched him already and turns out not to be as dumb as we’ve all assumed.

Does the painting turn out to be authentic? Well you’ll have to go along to the Duchess Theatre to find out but expect lots of twists and turns in the plot before this neat, clever little play reaches its conclusion.

I wasn’t really aware of Ms Turner’s work before I saw Bakersfield Mist although she’s starred triumphantly in the West End several times in recent years, most notably as Martha, the vicious drunk and abusive wife of a university professor, in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. If that performance was as powerful as this I’m sorry I missed it and you shouldn’t miss her latest London appearance either.

Bakersfield Mist tickets