It’s one of the most famous feuds in Hollywood history. In the red corner, the femme fatale with those eyes – Bette Davis. In the blue, her bitter rival, sophisticated seducer Joan Crawford.
United by mutual hatred, the glamourous pair, stars of numerous Golden Age movies, were openly disgusted by each other. Bette once jibed that Joan had “slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie“, while Joan could be just as biting with her remarks: “Take away those pop eyes, the cigarette, those funny clipped words, and what have you got?“
Their bickering spanned their whole careers; and even after Joan died, Bette had this to offer: “You should only say good of the dead. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.“
Now a new production picks up the barb-tongued story from Bette Davis’ deathbed. As she passes away, who else but the ghost of Joan Crawford should arrive to take her away?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: The Final Curtain has been created by Foursight Theatre, who in its 25 year history has produced plays based on a number of formidable real life women including Mae West, Boudeccia and Margaret Thatcher.
“It’s great fun playing Bette,“ admits actress and co-creator Sarah Thom. “I’m trying not to be too daunted playing someone so well known. We try and leave audiences with an impression of the person, not an impersonation.
“We reveal their biographies, there’s a lot of laughs but the result is quite moving. We’re really trying to make them our own, it’s an interpretation.“
Despite such a well-covered public feud, the show tells an original story. Davis is forced by Tinsel Town hacks Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to finally confront the ghost of her nemesis – and of course, just because someone’s dead, doesn’t mean that they’ve changed.
“We really wanted to find our own angle on it. It’s not just a re-telling, it’s quite fantastical and has its own drama,“ says Sarah. “They see their similarities: both had multiple marriages, fathers who abandoned them, damning books from their daughters, and husbands that died in mysterious circumstances.“
With co-star Rebecca McCutcheon taking full opportunity as the deceased Joan donning some glitzy outfits, Sarah spends much of the play as the elderly, nightie-wearing Bette. But playing the star is consolation enough.
“Bette was certainly more in your face,“ explains Sarah. “Joan was more conniving, more slippery and sugary. They both gave as good as they got.
“Of course Bette has some great one-liners and it’s good being the person with the put-downs. Joan sets ’em up, Bette knocks ’em down!“
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: The Final Curtain is at Jacksons Lane, Archway Road until September 24. On September 17 at 4.30pm, Sandra Shevey leads a post-show talk, pulling together anecdotes from her time as a film-critic, a career that enabled her to interview both Crawford and Davis. Details: 020 8341 4421