Feud for thought - acclaimed play Bette and Joan, starring Dobson and Scacchi, to tour the UK in 2012

Posted: 24th November 2011

Currently getting heavily-plugged on the BBC at the moment is Cockney mope-opera, Eastenders, with yet another plot based on rivalry. This time it's the turn of the Brannings, a cheerless bunch of sub-gangsters and lady-teasers (and Dot, bless her) who clearly have some scores to settle with the entire human race. Or at least the denizens of Walford. If you want a rivalry that makes the Brannings and previous 'Stenders thugs the Mitchells look like Disney characters, you need to check out the real-life (un)civil war between two of the biggest Hollywood stars of their generation.

"The Divine Feud", an essential book written by Shaun Considine, tells the story of how Bette Davis and Joan Crawford often squared up to each other off-screen, either verbally, physically or psychologically. The spat described so eloquently in Considine's text, continued for most of their careers, each one trying to out-do the other, either on screen or off. Bitterness, jealousy and scathing hatred for each other merely served to fan the flames of detestation to its max.

And then they were both assigned roles in the same film, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" - someone, somewhere was clearly enjoying being the casting officer for that one. Yet it was to be a catalyst for both of their (by then) dwindling careers, although it was rumoured that physical scenes of assault between their diva-like characters were not faked. A story about two spent actors who loathe each other? Why not, indeed.

As well as the book and the real-life story, such events haven't gone unnoticed by theatre-agents either, hence the triumphant creation of Bette and Joan by Anton Burge, which played at the West End's Arts Theatre earlier this year. Garnering many rave reviews from most critics, the play starred Anita Dobson (famed for playing Angie Watts in the aforementioned 'feuderama', Eastenders) and Hollywood star Greta Scacchi.

Thankfully, this sympathetic study of the two rivals meeting each other on the set of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", will be touring the South East next year, complete with its two previous stars in the lead roles. First stop for "Bette and Joan" will be Richmond Theatre from 10th to 14th April, followed by Bromley's Churchill Theatre from 21st to 26th May and, just announced, Brighton's Theatre Royal from 28th May to 2nd June.

Tickets are on sale now at various prices, mainly from £20 upwards.

Paul Pledger