Bakersfield Mist** (Duchess Theatre)

Posted: May 22, 2014 in Theatre

Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmidA double hander pairing a Hollywood star, best known for jaunts around the Amazon jungle and the Egyptian desert, with an elder statesman of British classical theatre seems, at first sight, something of an oddity. However, Kathleen Turner’s stage credits now take up more space in the programme than her film ones and Ian McDiarmid shows a deft touch for light comedy not often seen before. She is “trailer trash”, living in Bakersfield, California, he is a New York City art expert assigned to determine whether or not a painting which she has chanced upon is an original Jackson Pollock. The early comedy, which comes from a clash between her brazenness and his pomposity, is bright and promises well, but Stephen Sachs’ play then moves into a debate about what is genuine and what is fake, both in art and in life. In short, it is picking up the baton from Yazmina Reza’s Art, but not running very much further with it. Unfortunately, the dialogue often feels unnatural and the development of the two characters is inconsistent, so that Polly Teale’s production relies heavily on two charismatic performances to carry it through dull patches. The plot also dries up very early, leaving the play to meander on until it fizzles out like a damp squib. Tom Piper’s set, the interior of a trailer, is a marvel of detail, littered with every conceivable form of bric-a-brac. a fridge barely visible under magnets and prints of paintings that hang as monuments to bad taste; but, sadly,  the set deserves better than the play that it is home to. Running at just 75 minutes, the production is 25 minutes shorter than stated in the programme, which suggests that a considerable amount of cutting could have already taken place during rehearsals; with a little more trimming, the play could have been fun in a small fringe venue, but in the West End, it feels overblown and, of course, overpriced.

Performance date: 21 May 2014

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