Bette and Joan: The Final Curtain, review: Hollywood giants still a star attraction

Tale of Bette Davis (above) and Joan Crawford offers pathos and irreverance

Click to follow

The Icons season in the studio has begun strongly with this wittily macabre bitch-fest, scripted by James Greaves and co-devised by the performers. It imagines Bette Davis (Sarah Thom) on her death bed in 1989 confronting the horror of having to spend eternity with her great rival Joan Crawford (Sarah Toogood).

The droll framework is that, on deliberately lurid and wonky film footage, Thom and Toogood also get to portray, respectively, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, arch Hollywood gossip columnists. This bug-eyed, posthumous pair still appear to be controlling destinies in the afterlife and have sent Joan, who died 12 years earlier, as their emissary to “ease [Davis’s] journey to the other side”.

The malice of the mission is very amusingly handled, as are the many echoes of the sadistic set-up in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the one picture in which the legends appeared together. Davis claims that she was an actress whereas Crawford was merely a star. “You don’t do theatre, do you? Too scared.” “Too employed,” wisecracks Joan. But there are passages where they speak in unison, pointing up the many similarities between the two and the price they’ve paid as women for their Hollywood success. So there’s a pathos in the piece as well as spirited irreverence.