Bette and Joan
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Long before the days of Elton, when Mariah was just a twinkle in her father’s eye and J-Lo was yet to shimmy her wide load onto the scene, a different kind of diva ruled Hollywood.
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Blessed with youth, beauty and ladylike respectability (we’re not ones for reincarnation, but this is just uncanny), Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were two of the most glittering stars to grace the silver screen during the 1930s and 40s. But in an era without lunchtime-lipo and the guiding hand of Gok Wan, time was a cruel mistress and the two eventually fell from grace.
Of course, what fate takes with one hand she gives with the other, and the play follows the off-screen drama behind their 1962 comeback; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Documenting one of the most infamous clashes in classic Hollywood history this bitter and bitchy comedy is brilliantly cast, bringing together Greta Scacchi and Anita Dobson (who, by the way is looking ridiculously good for 62 – we’re taking note of those stretches) as Bette and Joan. With a Texan brawl veiled behind her calculated elocution and sickly sweet audience asides, Dobson delivers some witty one-liners and a convincing performance as Crawford. Not to be outdone, Scacchi rises equally to her brash and brawling Yankee role, delivering emotion and low-brow punchy humour.
Despite the strong performances though, we’d be lying if we said it didn’t feel as though something was missing. Perhaps it was the static set (the action for the whole performance only takes place in the characters' dressing rooms), or perhaps it was because the scripted drama never culminated in the physical or screeching slagging match we’d hoped for. In fairness, it was probably the latter (who doesn’t love a good cat-fight?), but maybe that’s more a shameful reflection of today’s divas in comparison to the ladies who blazed their trail.
In short Bette and Joan is very much an enjoyable show. Whether you’ve seen Baby Jane or not, it’s easy to follow and should give you some good tips on how a diva should behave.
As an aside it’s probably worth noting that (based on our audience, at least) you’re likely to be the youngest person in the audience by a good hundred years. Seriously though, don’t let this deter you; it’s perfect if you’re on the hunt for a Werther’s Original or just fancy hearing the chorus of jaws hitting the ground when Scacchi delivers the c-bomb. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Bette and Joan is currently touring. For details, dates and tickets check out the official website.
Words: Luke Campbell