Friday, 23 September 2011

Bette & Joan: The Final Curtain 7th September 2011

Who is in it: Sarah Thom and Sarah Toogood, as part of Foursight Theatre
Where did you see it? Jackson's Lane, Highgate, until 24th September

"That sounds...awful" said my friend when I told him what I was seeing the following night, I didn't have the highest of hopes; a two hander about screen goddesses Bette and Joan and it isn't even the Anita Dobson/Greta Scacchi version that was in the West End!?

Bette and Ronald in 1987
I was wrong. It was BETTE than I expected (people are still complaining about the lack of puns and that one isn't even mine but Jonathan Sloman's) what helps such a production is it's great venue, which was turned into a wake for Bette as we waited to see the play with video of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  playing, posters of Bette's films such as Jezebel and my personal favourite a  framed picture of Bette and Ronald Reagan on the table reuniting (after appearing in Dark Victory together) in 1987.

I'm not as familiar with Bette and Joan as I should be though my general knowledge on Bette is better than it is on Joan. I've definitely seen a couple of Bette films like The Anniversary and Jezebel whereas the closest I've come to Joan is Mommy Dearest. The format of the play means you get a crash course in Bette/Joan history. Their childhood's; alluding to Joan's abuse by her stepfather, their multiple lovers, their films and their relationships with their children(and the abortions they had to keep the studio happy). The biggest thing to come out of this play is how similiar Bette and Joan were and it proved to be a hindrance rather than a help to their relationship. Just suggestion being that if they had just sat down together they would have realised that "You mean all this time we could have been friends?"
Sarah Toogood and Sarah Thom as Joan and Bette

 Though I'm not sure that is the case. It is clear throughout Bette looked down on Joan (She saw Joan as merely as star, Bette was an actress) and made no secret of her joy when she outlived her. The play begins with Bette on her deathbed, her last night on earth before Joan, sent by Hedda Hopper and Luella Parsons (Hollywood gossip queens of the 1930s, like a interwar Perez Hilton) who now control the afterlife as much as they did the gossip columns and unsurprisingly Bette won't be seen dead with Joan, literally!It's strengths lie in the use of props and videos, that isn't to belittle the performances of the Sarahs who seem to physically morph into Hedda, Bette, Joan and Luella and it some ways it feels wasted in an outer London venue and would suit a bigger theatre and bigger cast.

This is a lovely production, in one of the lovliest fringe venues I have seen during my odyssey of theatre and comedy going and I'm afraid laziness means I've only got around to publishing it on its penultimate performance. The only criticism I have is one scene where Bette pleasures herself with her Oscar, which makes me sound like such a prude and I can see Oscar's phallic charms but it felt out of place in what had been a play full of subtle references to Bette and Joan's oversexed lives and their successful careers.

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