New End's Me & Jezebel is based on Elizabeth Fuller's stage adaptation of her 1992 book, about her 32 day encounter and experiences of having Bette Davis as an unexpected house guest in her 'somewhat dilapidated' New England cottage in the summer of 1985.
In this production, deftly directed by Barry Crocker, Katy Manning, as Elizabeth, gives a full throttled, vibrant, virtuoso performance, playing all the characters in her household; the wild and witty Bette; her put upon and neglected husband; her impressionable thumb-sucking four-year-old son, who by the end of the stay is developing into a mini Bette copycat; her infuriatingly OTT born again evangelist friend Grace and 'Ol' Ma', the grandmother who introduced her to Bette Davis films, which began the lifelong obsession that is the key to this 'brief encounter'.
Over 105 minutes we learn how a chance encounter led to Miss Davis inviting herself for an overnight stay which, due to a hotel strike in Manhattan, extends to the point where Mr Fuller remarks “We're losing control of our house, our lives, our child” as his wife becomes more devoted to serving her new 'mistress', blinded to reality by her sycophantic admiration. However, what comes across strongly here is Elizabeth's loss of her grandmother and how in a way having this grand old lady fulfils a double fantasy, especially for someone who is only too keen to let us know that she is a psychic medium who communes with the dead.
Whilst Katy Manning brings the dialogue to life in a dynamic way the script is so episodic that it bounces rather than flows from one day to the next, and whilst the simple set allows for all the scene changes, room to room and a neighbour's garden, the lighting is not always sympathetic to creating the right mood.
This is a passionate, provocative piece, self indulgent on Elizabeth's part, cashing in on the 'cult' of celebrity, yet beautifully brought to life by Katy Manning's urgent, evocative and engaging performance. Ultimately our sympathy and compassion is more with the uninvited guest, whose sensitivity is hidden for self protection by a quick wit, than with the wildly manic, untamed, frenzied Elizabeth, who needs grounding; and one wonders mid-way through who exactly the husband was threatening to walk away from!
- Dave Jordan