Leaving the theatre after seeing this production it is very easy to question whether it is the images on the movie screen or the images created for the stars of those movies that are more important. For here we have two megastars, starring in the same film, who have egos so big that the resulting conflict is the Hollywood backlot equivalent of the Clash of the Titans.
In this superb two-hander we see the bitter feud between Bette Davis Greta Scacchi, who was theatre-trained and Joan Crawford Anita Dobson who had only appeared on the movie screen. Each is convinced that they are superior to the other and their unashamed bitchiness towards each other is played out here to the full.
The set is a pair of back-to-back dressing rooms. Crawford’s is full of huge bouquets of flowers, a rack of beautiful clothes, a Pepsi cola fridge and, a prop from the current project, a wheelchair. The other is quite bare, with just a few drab clothes on a rail and, another prop from the film, a blonde wig full of ringlets. Many in the audience recognise these props from the cult movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which was made in 1962 and provided a comeback for both actresses.
The lighting is cleverly designed so that when Dobson enters as Crawford, and addresses the audience directly, the auditorium remains gently lit so that she can make eye contact. It is obvious that a long period of study has preceded the performance as Crawford’s look and voice are replicated wonderfully.
A short while later Davis arrives, no, explodes into her dressing room with the first of her foul-mouthed rants. She too addresses the audience directly and the performance continues with each of the women scoring points at the other’s expense, with no holds barred and any weakness an opportunity for attack.
Anton Burge’s writing is as sharp as it was in his 2008 one-woman show about Davis Whatever Happened to the Cotton Dress Girl? but, this time, he also makes the most of his opportunity to voice Crawford as well. The dialogue is not ground breaking and it holds nothing new, but it does illustrate the rivalry between the women so well.
The bitchiness is delivered in contrasting ways with Crawford’s approach a little more subtle and insidious than Davis’s full on “go for the jugular” approach with Scacchi getting the best of the lines including the wonderfully damning “I play bitches because I am not a bitch. That is why she is playing a lady”.
My only criticism of the piece is that, for a two and a half hour show, it was a bit lacking in content but, overall, this is a piece that is well written, perfectly delivered and lapped up by an eager and enthusiastic Brighton audience.