Darren Scott / Editor
Bette and Joan
Whatever big budget, celebrity-filled film adaptation theatre production you’re planning on traveling to see in London’s West End, forget it.
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There’s a new show that’s topping that particular list, one that’s got it all. A Hollywood hit, huge movie stars, booze, bitching and a bitter feud.
For these reasons alone Bette and Joan is London’s new must-see show. But throw in two incredible performances from the stars, Anita Dobson and Greta Scacchi, and frankly there’s no excuse to miss this.
Set in the dressing rooms of legendary ladies Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (Davis “always has billing above the title, and is always first”) the action revolves around one day filming on the now-classic movie Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
The comeback hit that both neglected stars were desperate for forced them into working together, something Davis was never keen to see happen. Davis considered herself an actress, while Crawford she deemed a movie star.
Davis’ dislike for her co-star is rarely disguised despite Crawford’s best attempts to make Bette like her, as a 30 year feud reaches boiling point.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in the life and work of Davis and Crawford will adore the passing comments and references that playwright Anton Burge has sprinkled throughout the script. Sure, there’s a couple of minor alterations for dramatic effect, but who’s going to argue when the theatre is shaking with laughter?
And while yes it’s camp – how could it not be – you’re laughing with the cast and writer and not at them, laughs that genuinely don’t stop until the very last second and don’t detract from the sadness of two career driven women trying to claw their way back to the top of a sexist industry.
Things slow down slightly at the start of the second act, as both actresses reminisce about their lives and loves instead of how to get one over on each other but it soon picks up again as you will them to get nastier and nastier.
Dobson (Crawford) and Scacchi (Davis) throw themselves into the parts with such utter relish that they’re an absolute joy to watch. At times their versions are uncannily accurate, and while Scacchi gets the better lines by a clear mile, Dobson’s Crawford – as though played with an ever so camp nod to the kind of audience this play would attract – has the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand.
Bette and Joan are most definitely back on top again.
Until 25 June, Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London. Details and tickets at artstheatrewestend.com