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Haymarket - Whatever Happened To Bette And Joan?

1st to 2nd February 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Roads to stardom

Whatever Happened To Bette And Joan?, at the Haymarket, Basingstoke, on Wednesday, February 1 and Thursday, February 2

Whatever Happened To Bette And Joan? is an amusing yet acerbic look at two of Hollywood’s biggest stars – Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

Directed by Mary Swan for the Proteus Theatre Company it is not a simple retrospective of their careers but a look into the depths of the Hollywood machine, in this case a dark, manipulative and twisted Tinseltown.

Nevertheless it also tenders a hilarious insight in to the studio tittle-tattle that surrounded the couple’s relationship. Davies hated Crawford for being a ‘true star’ with a huge fan base while sadly Crawford wished she could have been a real theatre trained actress like Davis.

Furthermore both were known for their portrayals of bitches both on and off screen. The play sees them both closeted on the set of the major film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, locked in a staged arena of ‘mutual loathing’ facing the final curtain in a haze of cigarettes and, in the case of Richard Sandells’ edgy Joan, alcohol.

Two wired bitches witnessing what they believe is the end of the days that made them – the movies. Bette, a ratchet voiced Kate Russell-Smith, sums it up as ‘clearing up after a party when all the best guests have gone’. To them the grandeur of the movies is a fast fading dream where they had played privately and publicly as mothers, lovers and actresses.

In their dressing room we witness their vitriolic point scoring as each tries to outdo the other with equal vindictiveness. As an audience we are not forced to take sides but to revel in their coruscating rivalry. As an example feel the bile in Bette’s cutting remark about her rival as she grandly states that in furtherance of her career Joan had ‘slept with every major star at MGM except for Lassie’. Clearly their pairing in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane was a hideous and cruel final joke.

However, what becomes clear is that despite this egomaniac posturing they do come together, united in a shared experience. Director Mary Swan notes Bette’s line from All About Eve that ‘the one career that they have in common is being a woman.’ They are true equals whose lives were conducted in different ways yet reaching the same goals.

Whatever Happened To Bette And Joan captures this perfectly in this superb eighty-minute one act, performance that tours the UK through February and March.