by Martin Borley-Cox

If you’re under 50 you might be saying ‘who on earth are Bette Davis and Joan Crawford?’.   Or maybe you saw the Ryan Murphy mini-series about them (shown on BBC Two in 2017)? It was called Feud and told the story of the Hollywood stars as they slugged it out with bitchiness and witty put-downs.

Both women had a reputation for being strong and confrontational, both on and off the movie set. As Bette once said: “In this business, until you're known as a monster you're not a star.”

“There may be a heaven, but if Joan Crawford is there, I'm not going.” - Bette Davis

"Poor Bette! She looks like she’s never had a happy day… or night, in her life.” - Joan Crawford

As you can see, they were blunt and funny. It’s the sort of humour we now expect from drag queens!

Strong women are often treated differently to strong men. Remember the Spitting Image puppet satirising Margaret Thatcher by putting her in a man’s suit and smoking a cigar?   Research by Charlotte Taylor from the University of Sussex found that men are ‘sarcastic’ or ‘making fun’, but women are ‘bitchy’.

Bette and Joan were brave enough to stand up for themselves in a male-dominated world, and were not afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

Anton Burge’s play Bette & Joan is set in The Producers Studio on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood in the early 1960s. They are making the cult psychological-horror film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  The action takes place in their adjoining dressing rooms.

Both were Oscar winners but their careers had peaked. Their stars were fading and they were in danger of becoming has-beens. This movie is their chance to shine once again. But how will the arch-rivals get on?

Let the battle commence!

Watching the feuding actors is very funny. It’s easy to laugh at the hurled insults and cruel put-downs. But it is also poignant. Both women’s steely exteriors and thick makeup hide troubling cracks. The silver-screen icons have more in common than may first appear.

It’s a joy to be working with two experienced and talented actors. Victoria Miles is the chain-smoking Bette who is fierce and scary in her Baby Jane wig. Kate Billingham plays the vodka-swilling Joan Crawford who worships beauty, and her adoring fans.

They have a phenomenal number of lines to learn but are gradually transforming themselves into the cruel, witty and damaged movie stars. As Bette Davis once said: “If you want a thing done well, get a couple of old broads to do it.” (Vic and Kate - my apologies!)

Find out more about the show and our tour, click here.