Hollywood Heroines Get Their Claws Out Again

By Stuart Black Last edited 32 months ago
Hollywood Heroines Get Their Claws Out Again ★★★☆☆ 3

Sarah Toogood as Joan Crawford and Sarah Thom as Bette Davis. Photo Credit Robert Day.

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

Aficionados of the silver screen should head over to St James Theatre to catch Bette And Joan: The Final Curtain, which resurrects two of Hollywood’s greatest rivals and sets them on each other again.

Sarah Toogood vamps it up as Joan Crawford, who has come from the afterlife to escort back her nemesis Bette Davis, played with cackling glee by Sarah Thom. The only problem is Davis won’t die — at least not until the two have raked each other over the coals one last time, which means picking apart their films, love lives and the causes behind their mutual antagonism.

This is a small but nicely-formed playlet and performed in the cabaret-like setting of the St James Studio, it feels like everything is shot in close-up. Thom and Toogood, who also devised the play, quickly establish a playful rapport with the audience and we are soon drawn into their murky memory-scape — an intimate, sometimes claustrophobic labyrinth of jealousy and loathing.

James Greaves script is well-constructed and darkly funny and draws out pin-sharp performances from the actors. The direction by Thom and Rebecca McCutcheon is economical and considering the very tight set manages to build in a few nice surprises (one smart reveal had the front row falling off their chairs in fright). The sound design is also exemplary with ice cubes tinkling and cigarettes hissing like an old, overproduced movie.

One slight misstep is the over-use of video footage — a direct line to a couple of bureaucrats in hell, in the style of a spoofy American gossip show. It only ends up getting in the way of the main business: Thom and Toogood trying to snatch the spotlight from each other and firmly putting the bitch into each other’s obituary.

Bette & Joan: The Final Curtain is on at St James Theatre until tomorrow, so be quick. Tickets are £17.50 and £20. There’s more to come, however, as this play kicks off the Icons Season which puts more stars from yesteryear on the slab to dissect: Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton.

Last Updated 08 January 2015