Californian actress and playwright Jessica Sherr, brings this one woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe for its third year. One of this reviewer’s top shows at PBH’s Free Fringe 2013, it shows you that quality theatre works well in both settings.
It’s the Academy Awards 1939 and young Bette Davis is nominated for Best Actress in Dark Victory. Vivien Leigh is also nominated for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. The Los Angeles Times leak all the winners early: Bette Davis will lose to Vivien Leigh. With newspaper in hand, Davis decides to leave. We witness Bette’s most defining moments as a tenacious young starlet fighting her way to the top, taking us on a journey of what happens when someone who always wins … loses.
What ensues is an internal dialogue of Davis’ memories, and relationships with her confidants, lovers, mentors and mother Ruthie, as well as insight into the struggle and fight of a young 31 year old Bette Davis whose voice will not be quashed.
Sherr, who also wrote the play, gives a passionate performance as Bette Davis, and great characterisations of the people who come into her life. The opulent setting of the Assembly Rooms with its chandeliers, brings the audience into the allure of the 40s, despite the minimalist set and the vibrating and ringing of the audience’s mobile phones, with Sherr, the true professional, carrying on regardless.
There’s a little bit of Bette in each show, with Bette’s original emerald silk gloves having been donated by the Davis Estate, featuring in each performance. Sherr’s costume changes add weight to the era too.
This version of Bette Davis may have lost some of the vitality of the original production, but if the golden era of the 40s is your thing, then Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies will transport you back to the glamour of Hollywood, if only modern day technology wouldn’t interrupt.