Bette & Joan

Date 18th May 2017
Society Neston Players
Venue Neston Civic Hall
Type of Production Play
Director Joanne Rymer


Author: Budge Grounsell


 Although from similar backgrounds and life-experiences, movie stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis reputedly hated each other, engaging in a feud which has become the stuff of legend. The feud exploded when the actresses were cast in a low budget feature called 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' which went on to achieve huge box office success and has itself become a legend.  Anthony Burge author of the play has caught the mood in a very enjoyable  camp and bitchy way.  Director Joanne Rymer gave us a fine  entertainment and expertise in handling a cast of just two and making the most of a static set.

 It is often tartly funny, and provides Tia Gill and Jean Lawrence  two fine actresses with juicy parts  to sink their teeth or perhaps their nails in.The action is set in their adjacent dressing rooms at the Warner Brothers studio. There's bitchiness aplenty in Anton Burge's script. Bette Davis tells us that Crawford 'slept with everyone on the lot, except Lassie'. Ms Crawford says Bette has 'always been difficult' due to a 'disorganised sex life'. All of this makes for considerable mirth, although the material hardly results in prolonged gales of laughter, rather passing breezes. If you were looking for a punch-up between these two mega stars you'’d be in for a disappointment. Apart from a fairly restrained confrontation in the second half, they're largely kept isolated in their dressing rooms, rather like boxers hurling abuse at each other from their corners. We do learn something of their private lives – the many marriages, the men they loved, the fathers who cast them aside, as well as their surrogate fathers Jack Warner and Louis B Mayer, the dependants they had to support  their insecurities and regrets but these insights are secondary to the feud and the bitching which is what I suspect most people wanted to see.

 There are times during the play when you would almost think that the real Bette Davis was delivering the lines. Jean Lawrence catches Ms Davis's intonation and clipped manner of speech quite brilliantly, though not entirely consistently. She's blunt, forthright and abrasive and there's the ever-present cigarette which seemed as much a prop for the real Ms Davis as it is here for Ms Lawrence. Tia Gill also manages to get under the skin of Joan Crawford, producing an almost aristocratic Crawford with a sense of poisonous menace underlying a calm and controlled exterior. On balance, Ms Giil probably has better and funnier lines.playing the control-freak actress with the unhealthy obsession with coat-hangers and a mixture of manipulative charm and barely concealed malice that is often hugely entertaining. when directly addressied to  the audience whilst demurely sucking vodka-laced Pepsi through a straw. The mixture of honey and ice in Tia’s voice is beautifully judged and the look of  malice as she considers how to make it more difficult for Davis to lift her out of the wheelchair during for the next shot is wickedly funny. Compared to the icy Crawford, Ms Lawrence’s  comes across as  a big and blowsy Bette Davis;  a woman  capable of genuine warmth.,

 The lighting effects were  at times sporadic and I was not entirely sure what it was intended to achieve but it is a moot point. Neston are always well served by their backstage team and this was no exception either from backstage or front of house personnel.  Another triumph for the players.  Budge

Ps,  the final line was one to die for.