I’ve too many bad memories of West End theatres on hot afternoons. So the cool freshness of the Duchess Theatre was a pleasant surprise, especially on a day when record temperatures were expected. Quite a contrast with the sun-drenched swelter of the Aldwych outside.
Tom Piper’s somewhat spacious ‘trailer’ set is stuffed with broken-down, mismatched furniture. At its centre is an arm chair covered in a crocheted throw. Vaguely arty coffee tables bearing ‘objets’ crowd the floor; shelves and walls display painted plates and bright, tasteless paintings of clowns and weird seascapes. It’s the home of loud-mouthed Maude (Kathleen Turner). ‘I decorated it myself, all from thrift shops’ she declares, in front of the horrified gaze of up-tight New York art connoisseur Lionel, (Ian McDiarmid) called in to evaluate a ‘find’. Maude is sure she’s bought a genuine Jackson Pollock for $3. If authenticated by Lionel, it’s worth millions.
What follows is an hour and a quarter’s master class in how to deliver a two-hander, under Polly Teale’s smooth direction. Characters of different class, education and temperament are a good start. The actors deliver a lively polemic on art while reliving the ups and downs of their respective careers in art-criticism and bar-tending. Lionel’s demonstration of Pollock’s painting method, from arm-swinging flourishes to catching a coffee table he’s sent flying earns a round of delighted applause. A witty script does justice to the energetic performances.
I’d recommend buying the programme, which includes interviews with Kathleen Turner and Stephen Sachs as well as an eye-opening article about fakery in art, pictures, what’s-on news, a topography of Bakerfield and even a theatrically-themed crossword.
A cool experience in every sense of the word.