Bette Davis On The Edge
Written & performed by Christine St John
Kino-Teatr, St Leonards 23rd February 2019
Review by Martin Allen
The programme sets the scene: As the curtain rises, it is 4.30 in the morning on October 31st 1962 and we are in a VIP suite at the Plaza Hotel New York City…
The stage before us is frugally set with just two chairs and two telephones centre stage, flanked upstage by a piano and a tall table, each adorned with a burgeoning vase of flowers.
The lights dim and a figure sweeps down the central aisle. She turns, the lights come on, and before us stands Bette Davis. Then, over the course of the next 90 minutes, we are treated to a performance as sparkling as her diamond-encrusted necklace and as electric as the blue of her ballgown.
Christine St. John has written a one-woman show every bit as tempestuous as the iconic actress herself. She delivers a powerful, unrelenting monologue charting how Bette came to be in her hotel room after the 1963 Academy Awards Ceremony (Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, for which she was nominated as best actress, but didn’t win an Oscar).
As she takes us from her inspiration, Peg Entwhistle, through her Warner Brother years, her failed marriages, her co-stars, and her rise and fall in the film industry, all the sharp looks, anecdotes and quips are delivered with the trademark Bette Davis acid tongue… and with the same deadly potency.
She moves effortlessly from pithy Bette to angry Bette to heartbroken Bette, the audience never quite knowing where they are being taken next. We are swept from frustration to stoicism, to elation and to despair, rising and falling with deeply satisfying timing.
She inhabits other characters too, switching seamlessly between Bette and cigar-wielding film producer Jack Warner to dialogue their difficult relationship, and between two eminent London QCs, to describe with great comedic flair her famous court battle in London over her Warner Brothers contract.
My favourite scene though described how Bette Davis set up and became President of the Hollywood Canteen during the Second World War, aided by a rollcall of stars of silver screen whose glamorous names drip from her lips … Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn, Fred Astaire, Betty Grable and many more, all making themselves available to simply cook food, clean dishes, wait on tables, dance and chat with American servicemen.
Bette Davis worked Hollywood at a time when actresses over the age of 40 who were considered too old for starring roles were known as the ‘disappeared’; they were moved on, forgotten about, or simply blown away. In Bette Davis On The Edge, Christine St. John’s pacey performance is not one that will disappear from our minds. It blew us away too… but for all the right reasons.
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