‘Bette and Joan’ is a construed biography brilliantly written by Anton Burge. Anton Burge is a universally respected playwright and theatrical actor whose plays, pseudo interviews, historical works (both accurate and interpreted) are based around notable women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Burge has a queue of famous older actors from Who’s Who, desperate to get a part in his plays for mature actresses.
‘Bette and Joan’ opened in the West End of London in 2011 and starred Australia’s adoptee Greta Scacchi – who is 60 next week – as Bette Davis, and Anita Dobson as Joan Crawford, after escaping from almost three-hundred episodes as Angie in ‘EastEnders’. This production for adults, has been rewritten since the play’s Premiere.
After seeing ‘The Actress’ last week this was like déjà vu, only with two actresses in their dressing rooms.
This 2-hour dramatisation is a two-hander biography and it can be seen at the Garrick Theatre, 16 Meadow Street, Guildford. The curtain goes up at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 29th February. There is one Sunday matinée at 2.00 pm on 16th February.
It appears that many people in their twenties have never heard of these Oscar winners, so here are short biographies. EVEN IF YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THIS COUPLE you will love this play.
Texan Joan Crawford was known as suave, arrogant, aristocratic and elegant. She started as a dancer and by sleeping around was signed up by MGM for two decades. Married four times plus extras on the side; her last husband was President of Pepsi Cola.
Bette Davis was unattractive, rough as they come, foul mouthed, shabbily dressed but got to the top purely by her acting skills. She worked for Warner Brothers for 18 years, winning three Oscars. Married four times.
The film they are making is ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ and is about a former child star who torments her paraplegic sister living in their crumbling Hollywood mansion.
Director, Lynne Devenish has produced a wonderful three-minute compilation of film clips and facts presented before the curtain rises.
The scene: Early morning in 1962. Two adjacent dressing rooms in the rundown B block, the Hollywood set of ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’
The set: was designed and constructed by James Nailen, Caileb Hombergen-Crute and Geoff Holt. It showed two adjacent dressing rooms with a thin plasterboard wall separating them. Bette’s to the left, Joan’s to the right. The stud walls were mustard yellow. Each room had a couch, a dress rack and a makeup counter with the obligatory multi bulb array around the mirror. Joan’s room had her character’s wheelchair.
The numerous 60s props were supplied by Marion West and Kerry Goode.
The lighting and sound were designed and operated by Caileb Hombergen-Crute and Stuart Ridgway. The balance of the lighting in each room changed according to the dialogue. There were several clever and original flicker effects as the actor talked about their times in a movies.
Stage managed by Wendy Goodwin.
Bette Davis (Siobhan Vincent) and Joan Crawford (Sarah House) were once Grandes Dames of Hollywood, but by 1962 these adversaries were becoming cinema has-beens. When they were asked to appear together in a movie, one called ‘Baby Jane’.
Each actress always wanted to be the one in charge, the one being noticed!
Behind the conflict, bitching and the practical jokes, we see each woman’s insecurities and regrets.
Very strong and meaningful direction by Lynne Devenish. Both actors had just the correct hint of American accent. The script was superbly constructed but must have been difficult for the actors. It contained dozens of two- or three-minute monologues not simply spoken but ACTED to the audience. Often a good test is to see an actor on the telephone; even with a thirty second piece, the one-sided conversation often becomes false. In this play both actors had a couple of minutes of shouting and arguing down the phone that left you in no doubt there was someone at the other end. Both Siobhán and Sarah showed incredible and rare acting skills.
The 60s period costumes were carefully researched by costumière Colleen Bradford; they covered Joan’s finely presented outfits, from her immaculate gold silk chemise and cami knickers, to her gold lame coat and scarf. Then there was Bette’s well-worn unexciting underwear and her chocolate brown knitted dress with white spots. Lynda Stubbs has again come to the rescue again with two ideal wigs.
This is one of these COMPLETE productions. An authentic ‘shabby’ set, smart period costumes, a short introductory film, clever lighting and sound, brilliant direction and two real-life stars as amazing as the actresses they are portraying. This play will win awards and is certainly a DO NOT MISS production.