By Anton Burge
Directed by Bill Alexander
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Friday 16th March 2012
I have to hand it to Anita Dobson and Greta Scacchi, they made it possible to spend nearly two hours in the company of these out-and-out bitches and enjoy ourselves enormously. Of course the writing helped, with its clever intercutting of the conversations each actress was having with the audience – they rarely talked to each other – and the whole evening was a much better experience than I’d hoped for.
Neither Steve nor I had been attracted to Joan Crawford or Bette Davis as actors, or as people for that matter, so we weren’t familiar with their work and hadn’t seen What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? It didn’t matter; we knew enough of their reputations and the back story was cunningly interwoven with their chat to us so that anyone could have followed the story easily. In fact, for a play which was mainly exposition, the writing managed to avoid being clunky or obvious, which was a remarkable feat. There was a lot of humour, often through the juxtaposition of comments from each woman, and enough insight into each actress’s background to allow us to relate to them as people; I still wouldn’t want to spend time with them, but I can at least understand something of their challenges and how they rose to meet them. Or went down to meet them in Joan’s case.
The set was craftily designed to show us both of the dressing rooms, with the mirrors back to back. These didn’t actually exist; the walls were cut away to leave an open space between the two rooms, although in other respects there were a lot of furnishings to set the scene. Joan had her weighted belt to make Bette’s life hell during the lifting scene, while Bette’s trick on Joan was less nasty; she just ordered a Coke dispenser for the studio floor, as Joan’s last husband, now deceased, had been CEO at Pepsi. The performances were excellent, and we were very glad this came on tour after its success in London.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me