want a play about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to be a campy
bitchfest, and Anton Burge's new comedy certainly fits the bill.
is a little
disappointing that both the play and the performances in it are more
adequate than brilliant, but there's still enough here to make for good
two Hollywood divas in their dressing rooms for the 1962 film What Ever
Happened To Baby Jane? as they take turns wittily complaining about
those not in
the know, this was something of a comeback for both stars who, at 54,
were over the hill in Hollywood terms. The film is a psychological
horror story of a mad former child star dreaming of a comeback while
torturing her crippled sister. It's not a particularly good film, but
has become something of a camp classic through its over-the-top-ness,
and it did serve its purpose of kick-starting the stars' careers.).
something of a hybrid. While there are some scenes between the two
women, most of the evening is devoted to alternating monologues in the
mode of solo impersonation shows, with all the artifice (Who is she
talking to? Why?) that involves.
At a few particularly clever moments Burge cuts back and forth between the two women, so that we get two versions of the same anecdote to good comic effect.
by Bill Alexander to walk the thin line between characterisation and
impersonation, this evening's actresses face the added challenge that
both Davis and Crawford had created public personas, so that Anita
Dobson and Greta Scacchi are, in effect, doing parodies of
as Davis is
marginally the more successful. Wisely avoiding all temptation to do a
drag queen's broad cartoon Davis, she just picks up on hints of the
original's speech patterns and body language, so we know it's Davis but
can look beyond the surface.
created a thin veneer of saccharine elegant graciousness over her icy
core, and for a while Anita Dobson doesn't make it clear just who is
flirting so hard with the audience, the character or the actress
looking for laughs.
begins to run out of bitchy steam after the interval, and much of the
second act turns more serious, as each character exposes a little more
of what's beneath the shell, Davis's softness and Crawford's hardness.
Some may find this the most endearing and moving part of the evening,
though the comic energy does drop and there is a sense of masses of
undigested research being dumped on us.
for all the
effectiveness that sequence may have, nobody comes to this show looking
for a sensitive deeper understanding of two troubled women. We want a
bitchfest, and while Burge and his actresses might have delivered more,
they deliver enough to satisfy.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
- Bette and Joan - Arts 2011