Bakersfield Mist – reviews of 'pithy' new art-world comedy

May 29, 2014

Critics praise 'wonderfully compelling' Kathleen Turner in play about authenticity in art

Simon Annand

What you need to know
A new American play about the art world, Bakersfield Mist, starring Kathleen Turner, has opened at the Duchess Theatre, West End. Turner previously appeared in the West End in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2006. 

Stephen Sach's play focuses on Maude (Turner), an unemployed bartender, who believes she has discovered a valuable Jackson Pollock painting in a thrift store. But when art expert, Lionel Percy (Ian McDiarmid) flies in from New York to authenticate the work he gets more than he bargained for. Runs until 30 August.

What the critics like
"Kathleen Turner reminds us what a genuinely compelling stage star she is in this nimble, rewarding, new art-world comedy about faith, fakes and first impressions," says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. Turner makes a big character feel utterly true and McDiarmid is a treat in this pithy, beautifully performed play. 

Turner is wonderfully compelling and McDiarmid brings a delicious sense of irony to this funny, touching odd-couple tale, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. Unlike the dubious painting in question, "the performances are definitely the genuine article".

Kathleen Turner is "excellent" as Maude, playing a woman desperately seeking validation for her life as much as for the painting, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. While Ian McDiarmid conveys the natural curiosty of the fake buster, and the moment he sizes up the painting is a joy to watch. 

What they don't like
Turner does fine "happily slutting about the stage" as whiskey-swilling trailer trash, but the usually subtle McDiarmid has been panicked into providing "a caricature of himself as a Denis Thatcher-esque Lord Snooty", says Ismene Brown on ArtsDesk. It's conceivable that this over-familiar ground could have been trodden with some new wit or sense of place, but the ponderous writing makes Bakersfield Mist seem fake.

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