REVIEW: Bette and Joan at the Theatre Royal, Brighton

Bette and Joan at the Theatre Royal Brighton

Bette and Joan at the Theatre Royal Brighton

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THEIR feud was legendary, as were their demanding ways.

Bette David and Joan Crawford had been at the top of the Hollywood tree, but after hitting the wrong side of 40, their careers and their popularity began to wane.

And it’s a decade after this, when they’re in their 50s and acting parts are increasingly hard to come by, that we meet Bette and Joan in the production of the same name currently showing at the Theatre Royal, Brighton.

Staring Anita Dobson as Joan and Greta Scacchi as Bette, the play is set behind the scenes of their 1962 come-back production of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

We meet the actresses in their dressing rooms, and it’s this same set throughout the production, which only stars Dobson and Scacchi.

The pair have come together, despite their differences, for one last shot at the big time. We hear about their past grievances, getting both sides of the story from the respective dressing rooms, and find out that, despite their notorious dislike for one another, they both had similar backgrounds.

Both married several times, both had adopted children and both overcame difficult childhoods to make it big in Tinsel Town.

It’s a demanding piece, as the production is fairly long and relatively fast-paced, but on opening night yesterday (Monday, May 28) the women were line-perfect.

The first act lets us see the women as the public knows them – Joan, who is clinging onto the days when she was one of Hollywood’s top starlets, and Bette, a fearsome character actress with an explosive temper.

But if the first act is about seeing them with their public “masks” on, the second is about truth lets us see the women behind the masks.

Scacchi is brilliant in an emotive scene where Bette talks about the love of her life and a relationship that could have been.

And Dobson is admirable as the stoic and strong Crawford, as she accepts her past mistakes and vows to regain her glory days.

Directed by Bill Alexander, and written by Anton Burge, who is known for his women-only plays, Bette and Joan is an interesting look at Hollywood’s treatment of women.

And it’s a pattern that, I suspect, continues to repeat itself today.

Bette and Joan is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday, June 2. Tickets cost between £13 and £32, and can be booked by calling 0844 871 7650 or visiting www.atgtickets.com/brighton