Thursday, September 21

Bette & Joan – Frinton Summer Theatre

It’s likely even if you’ve never seen any of their movies, you’ve heard of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Such is the reputation of these Hollywood stars, that all these decades on from their most famous movies, their names are synonymous with the legendary times of that golden era.

It was also a time when egos were big, pay cheques were big, and the arguments of epic proportions. Anton Burge has honed in on the feud between the pair, showcasing their lives, personalities and short-comings laid bare for the audience to see. Thrust together to make a movie when both are at the tail-end of their ailing careers makes for a novel platform to explore the starlet’s battle.

The production is set in Joan and Bette’s dressing rooms, which face each other, mirror-style. It is an unusually clever and very effective device providing the audience with an intimate view into both actresses’ lives and creates a sense of privacy and depth not normally found on the stage. Neil Gordon has done a stellar job with the set design and costumes.

Joan (Felicity Dean) is a beautiful, fame hungry, image-obsessed actress. Bette (Greta Scacchi) is an equally obsessed artist, but with her theatre credentials, it is her pursuit of the ‘craft’ and desire for recognition of her abilities which is her holy grail. The scene is set for their bitter rivalries to explode, and these pair show that chemistry isn’t something just reserved for when the cameras are rolling.

The casting of Dean and Scacchi in this two-hander show is superb. Both actresses deliver solidly strong performances that would do their namesakes proud. They are driven, determined divas in a male-dominated world where they’ve had to fight through – teeth, nails, and all – to their position. And they want to stay there. Despite being dropped by their ‘adopted’ movie studio daddy-bosses, and aware of the ageism circling their fading stars, they want to shine brighter than ever before.

For a while their narcissism is interesting. It’s no surprise they both have a string of failed marriages, broken relationships and beneath their steely exteriors they are a mass of insecurities and have neuroticisms aplenty. But after a while such monolithic monologues – or rather duo-lithic duo-logues, become tiring and the interest, that was, like their stars, wanes.

Perhaps if one is more interested in the self-centred, conceited, egotistical, vainglorious musings of these leading ladies this show would be of more interest. But for me, I found the presumption I was to be so interested in their lives to be, well, presumptuous. Despite tiring of their tirades, I can see how this show could be well-liked by audience goers with more of an interest in this saga of bygone days. In fact, I’m sure a production such as this will definitely relight these former Hollywood stars fires once more.

Reviewer: Samantha Collett

Reviewed: 8th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.