Maude is the bourbon-swilling, plaid-wearing, tub-thumping ex-bartender surrounded by gaudy knick-knacks and urgent ashtrays.
She might also possess a Jackson Pollock she picked up from a thrift store for $3 (down from $5) which brings a highfalutin fake-buster to her steamy Californian trailer park.
Lionel is a very English, prissy, down-his-nose, buttoned-up snob who dabs his upper lip with a handkerchief and scans his surroundings for junk to despise out loud. He has the final say on the Pollock.
That Kathleen Turner plays Maude like a bull and Ian McDiarmid plays Lionel like a china shop makes for an arch and entertaining romp with a more profound question troubling its soul than the provenance of the artwork.
Playwright Stephen Sachs’ premise, at least, is based on a true story but he takes it on a revealing, if predictable, journey.
Fakery and authenticity are human qualities too and Maude and Lionel, from opposite sides of the cultural divide, explore what art means and who truly understands its value. In this respect, it brings to mind Educating Rita.
After lashings of bourbon and a leap into the improbable, Lionel loosens his tie and lets rip about the injustices of his career, his miserable wife and the fakery of the art word cognoscenti, which he contrasts with Pollock’s cliff-edge canvasses and uncompromising life.
For Maude, meanwhile, the promise of a Pollock is not the $50million jackpot but something more profound – the prospect of redemption and validation.
The pantomime antics (requiring a fight director I note) are like watching a whale trying to open a bag of nuts but the play finds its true rhythm when two supreme, and contrasting, actors are sparring old school, going quip for quip, barb for barb, armed with scalpel and blunderbuss.
Until Aug 30, Duchess Theatre WC2, £15-£42.50, nimaxtheatres.com