Saturday, 7 May 2011

Playing bitches





We went to see the first preview performance of a budding extravaganza last night - Anton Burge's new play based on the lives of two of the greats, Bette and Joan. It was superb!

Featuring the remarkable talents of Anita Dobson as Joan and Greta Scacchi as Bette, this is a tour-de-force of bitchery, as the two ladies play out a series of monologues (with the occasional meeting in between) in their dressing-rooms at the set for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. And play them they certainly do!

Miss Scacchi has Bette down to a "T", all her exaggerated twitches, her arrogance, her exasperated melodrama, her coarse swearing and her clipped vocal delivery. Never neglecting the pathos that lay behind the tough old broad - her need for a "good picture" in order to pay the domestic bills for her domineering mother Ruthie and mentally-ill sister Bobby, her bad marriage(s), her acceptance of the fact that she was never a great beauty - Miss Scacchi nevertheless makes the "monster" that was Bette really come to life.

She gets to deliver some of the best Bette Davis lines, too!
  • "Sex. God's biggest joke on human beings." (to which Joan allegedly quipped, "I think the joke's on you."
  • "Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life."
  • "I've always liked men better than women."
  • "I was known as the little brown wren. Who'd want to get me at the end of the picture?"
  • "Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Miss Crawford always plays ladies."
  • "She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie." (on Joan Crawford)

Anita Dobson, however, got the juicy (and somewhat more difficult) role, in portraying Miss Crawford. Simultaneously sugary-sweet (her catchphrases "Bless You", and "Eternal thanks, Dear", and her insistence on "good manners" are sublimely irritating - imagine what Bette made of them!), yet ruthlessly driven by ambition, resentment, control, and an obsessive desire to be loved (by fans, by directors, by co-stars, by men), Joan was a conundrum.

From her early escape from rural Kansas via the casting-couch to stardom, to perfectionist obsession, to pure evil, Miss Dobson captures Joan Crawford perfectly - particularly in the malicious way she wore a weighted belt in the scene where Bette has to drag her out of bed, knowing that Miss Davis had a bad back. Superb!

She also delivers some classic lines:
  • "If I can't be me, I don't want to be anybody."
  • "I was born in front of a camera and really don't know anything else."
  • "If you’ve earned a position, be proud of it. Don’t hide it. I want to be recognized. When I hear people say, ‘There’s Joan Crawford!’ I turn around and say, ‘Hi! How are you!’"
  • "Nobody can imitate me. You can always see impersonations of Katharine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. But not me. Because I've always drawn on myself only."
  • "I have always known what I wanted, and that was beauty... in every form."
  • "Take away the pop eyes, the cigarette, and those funny clipped words, and what have you got? She's phony, but I guess the public likes that." (on Bette Davis)

Despite some first-night glitches, this was a great show, and very me, dears...

I highly recommend this show - it is booking at the Arts Theatre to 25 June 2011.

And just because...

3 comments:

  1. It was absolutely superb. I think this afternoon I shall be watching 'Baby Jane' and 'Mildred Pierce'. J-Jx

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  2. It does look good - I'm planning on seeing this sometime soon - although I may end up going alone.

    Also hope to see End of the Rainbow before it closes - I went with Grumpy before Xmas but he wasn't feeling well and so we left in the interval - I was loving the show but obviously didn't want to let him make his own way home while he was feeling so poorly

    xx

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