Bakersfield Mist review - May 2014

An interesting piece of new writing that fails to push theatrical boundaries

KATHLEEN TURNER! The actual Kathleen Turner, live on stage in London! I could not have been more excited! For me the Duchess Theatre has been host to quite a mixed bag, but it was very hopeful that Stephen Sachs' new work would quench my thirst for fresh theatre.

Now for me, Seeing Kathleen Turner in the flesh in a performance is a bucket list experience. Whilst her role as Maude, a trailer park down and out, may not be her best ever, her stellar acting skills held my attention and earned my respect throughout the show. Turner perfectly exudes a sort of 40-smokes-a-day lost cause with a mysterious depth of hidden potential. She was most certainly captivating to watch and she certainly did her best with the character material she was given.

Perfectly complimenting yet juxtaposing Turner’s performance was a similar fine show from Tony and Olivier Award winner Ian McDiarmid (best known to the non theatre going crowd for his role as Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars.) McDiramid portrays Lionel, an art expert who flies from classy New York to Maude’s trashy trailer in Bakersfield to verify a potential Jackson Pollock painting she may have stumbled upon. Here Sachs neatly reflects Pollock's work as the two unlikely characters are thrown forcefully together by circumstance onto Sach’s own canvas; the stage. Like Pollock, the implausible collision of these two characters creates a big, predictable mess…but it’s fantastic to watch.

My main problem with Sachs’ text is that, whilst it may be an interesting concept on the surface, the collision of the classes is well charted theatrical territory. For the show to have left any lasting impression, it needed to discuss more than just a culture clash. I shan't ruin the play for anyone, but I felt a little underwhelmed by the slightly predictable resolution.

Visually, I was very impressed with the show. Designer Tom Piper welcomes the audience with the immediately impactive image of the interior of a cheap trailer, surrounded by wild bushes and twigs. Once again this reminded the audience of the chaos of Pollock's work and the chaos of Maude’s ill-fated life in Bakersfield. Similarly the surrounding wilderness hinted at Maude’s entrapment in her own life.

I did feel somewhat disappointed that, as an audience member, I was never able to see the painting in question. The whole 90 minutes of the show is discussing the impact this painting would have on Maude’s life, how it could be her meal ticket and so, and I am never allowed to see it. Perhaps this was an intentional device but for me it felt like a bit of a cop out.

As a lover of new writing, I was somewhat interested by Sachs’ new piece, however I do not think it was bold enough to stir any kind of real sociological thought within me (unlike Good People.) It was fantastic to see some truly solid acting from veterans Turner and McDiarmid, but I wish there was another arc to their characters that could have been revealed on stage. That said, with tickets slightly more reasonable than others in the West End, I’d recommend you give the show a watch and judge it for yourself.

Bakersfield Mist Review
27 May 2014, Duchess Theatre