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Bette & Joan - Sewell Barn Theatre (18.04.2024)

Updated: Apr 20

Bette & Joan depicts a time when the two Hollywood icons, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, had been cast in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The two stars famously never saw eye-to-eye, and the action takes places during filming for the movie, where we see Bette and Joan prowl around their adjacent dressing rooms bitching about one another.

But the play is more than a bitch-fest. Along the way, the pair of them muse over lost loves, their insecurities, their fierce determination to prove their worth in an industry that has a habit of discarding women over 30, and they also delve a little into the personal experiences which have shaped them.

I was a tad concerned going into this show that I was ill-equipped to provide an informed opinion, as to the best of my knowledge, I've never seen a movie starring either Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. I needn't have worried. In Alison Utting and Julie Hewitt as Bette and Joan respectively, we were in great hands as they confidently embodied experienced women who had been there and seen it all.

Those more in-the-know can tell you whether their portrayals were accurate or not, but this is a play not about impersonations, but about great roles for mature women. And what great roles they were, and wonderfully inhabited by both actors.

They each had a multitude of acerbic put-downs and brilliant one-liners which were always superbly delivered. However it was in their characters' more vulnerable moments that they both particularly shone - it's only a shame there wasn't more of these moments for them to get their teeth into. When the script allowed it though, Hewitt and Utting displayed a beautiful deftness of touch to their performances, which showed a different side to Bette and Joan as the actors shifted from comedy to emotional outpourings with such ease.

"A man is a lousy substitute for a decent script" says Alison Utting as Bette Davis, and without a man in sight to alter the focus from the absorbing performances of our protagonists, she could so easily have been talking about this production.

Bette & Joan continues at the Sewell Barn Theatre until 27 April.


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