The Times – 4 stars
“Odd couple’s row has comedy off to fine art”
(see full review)
Back in the West End for the first time in eight years, 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.
Yes, at first glance, Stephen Sachs’s one-act play appears amusing but a bit pat. It pits Ian McDiarmid’s prissy English art expert, Lionel, against Turner’s working-class bartender, Maude. Lionel has flown by private jet from New York to a trailer park in Bakersfield, California, to test Maude’s claim that the canvas she bought for three dollars from a local junk shop is an original Jackson Pollock (the show is inspired by a true story).
As he sneers at Maude’s cluttered trailer home — a marvellously intimate, convincing set by Tom Piper — and assures her that he is a connoisseur and she is a nobody, you wonder how much mileage Sachs will get from this odd couple of lonely, ageing abrasive types from opposite ends of the social scale.
Plenty, it turns out. “My first impression of you was completely inaccurate,” says Lionel after what turns into a thoroughly entertaining 85 minutes of quipping, arguing, boozing, opining, fist-fighting and soul-baring. Polly Teale’s well-paced production allows us to see that Lionel’s superciliousness is his barricade against the world, while Maude’s uneducated bluffness — “Well, who else would paint shit like that?” growls Turner, gesturing at the 5ft-high picture she has propped up for McDiarmid to inspect — conceals an intelligent, determined woman looking more for acceptance than money. Like Art before it, this play’s real canvas is not just artistic authenticity but human authenticity.
McDiarmid is a treat. Enthusing about Pollock’s “lariats of colour”, he renders the painter’s style in action, his body swirling around as if wielded by Pollock’s own hand. As Lionel gets blurred by booze, McDiarmid shows us a man whose determination to be a “fake-buster” is inseparable from the way he lost his pre-eminence in New York’s art scene.
Although Turner handles Sachs’s comic dialogue with zest, this American screen star makes a big character feel utterly true as she stalks around in jeans and plaid shirt, glass of bourbon in hand, uttering throaty put-downs and letting us in on her sadness without turning sentimental.
The title is a spin on a Pollock painting, Lavender Mist, that has a bearing on a plot that takes on a thrillerish knottiness as it goes along.
Yes, at this short length it’s impressionistic, finally offering more questions than answers about taste, expertise and artistry. No matter: this pithy, beautifully performed play put a smile on my face and kept my brain buzzing for a good while afterwards.
The Guardian (see front page):
The Daily Mail – 4 stars
“Gravel, wheeze and cigarettes … what a voice Kathleen has”
“an intellectual show full of shadings. Ad you are out in plenty of time for dinner.”
Not online yet
The Daily Telegraph – 3 stars
Turner and McDiarmid are terrific ..
Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid shine in Stephen Sach’s entertaining play about the discovery of a possible Jackson Pollock”
“This odd couple are a work of art”