Bette, Joan and a lot of slap

In brief: Just had the pleasure of Bette and Joan, a new play by Anton Burge, just finishing previews at the Arts Theatre, on Great Newport Street in Soho.  Not going to change the world, but enough content to be interesting, and some well-timed lines and solid performances which manage to avoid grotesque pastiche.

It’s a two-hander (plus voices off), exploring a vignette from the filmset for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  Anita Dobson is Joan Crawford, capturing the drawl and the sense of obsessional control of all around her.  More earthy, crude and rough-edged is Greta Scacchi’s Bette Davis.  Both deliver strong performances of consistency and detailed coherence, with the material they have, particularly capturing ‘the look’ as they get into costume for their scene at the end of Act 1, but avoiding French & Saunders’ heights of parody.  The story is seen entirely in two side-by-side cutaway dressing rooms, with good use of changing light levels to move us back and forth.  A lot of introspective ‘sharing’ with the audience is periodically relieved by a few one-on-one confrontations: two vipers coiling around each other, one slithery and careful, the other lunging more indiscriminately.  It’s enjoyable stuff, perhaps a little more for the outrageous camp that many in the audience are here to see, than for genuine insight (the audience comprising a healthy dose of well-groomed young men, obviously).  The overall trajectory seems to highlight differences between them in the first half, moving on to bring out similarities in the second half (coping with adversity, tough exteriors to cover up inner tragedy, that sort of thing).  Worth a see, I think, if you like that sort of thing…

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