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Bette and Joan

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 28th Mar 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge



The long-standing feud between legendary Hollywood screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford reached boiling point in 1962 when the pair, who were both experiencing career lows, were thrown together to film a high-risk, low-budget shocker.

The movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, was a surprise hit which propelled both actresses back to superstardom. Davis won her tenth Academy Award for her portrayal of an ageing ex-Vaudeville child star who wages a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister (played by Joan Crawford).

Nominated for a further five Academy Awards and an Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a mirthful masterpiece of the macabre which is now widely regarded as a cult classic.

Half a century later, the behind the scenes story of the making of the movie forms the basis of a new stage play, Bette and Joan. Written by Anton Burge, it lifts the lid on the highs, the lows, the tantrums and the tiffs between two of Hollywood’s greatest leading ladies.

It takes a pair of actresses of the highest possible calibre to step into the shoes of Crawford and Davis. Anita Dobson (Joan Crawford) and Greta Scacchi (Bette Davis) grab their roles with gusto and deliver performances which are never anything less than magnificent.

Scacchi, with her poached egg eyes and clipped speech, and Dobson, with her steely glamour and elongated vowels, both look and sound remarkably like Davis and Crawford and they have the audience in the palm of their manicured hands right from the word go.

Burge’s script is beautifully bitchy, crammed full of witty one-liners, and it gives both Miss Dobson and Miss Scacchi a field day. Quite how much the feud has been exaggerated, nobody knows. Yet, that said, the games of one-upmanship these divas engage in an attempt to be top dog, the dirty tricks and the sheer spitefulness between them is all played out in such a way that it is utterly convincing.

The drama takes place in the next-door dressing rooms of Crawford and Davis on the back-lot of the studio set and this allows for the atmosphere to be delightfully intimate – we, as an audience, really feel as though we are being taken into the confidence of each of these Hollywood legends.

Throughout the play, only Dobson and Scacchi appear on stage. Such a piece demands the most compelling of performances if the engagement of the audience is to be sustained. Fear not, with such consummate professionals in the roles, it is impossible not to be entirely captivated.

Indeed, Bette and Joan is the story of two iconic actresses who knew how to make the most of a role. How fitting, then, that it should be performed by two equally accomplished and iconic actresses who, most certainly make the most of portraying them.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs at Darlington until Saturday 31 March and then continues to tour.



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 6 years ago
    Congratulations on your 200th post to (the new) UK Theatre Network! Quite an achievement!
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