FOR those who know and love Frinton Summer Theatre, Bette and Joan is a stunning example of this icon of the Essex coast at its absolute best – incredible theatrical talent and stunning staging in an intimate setting that’s accessible to all. 

It should come as no surprise that Bette and Joan fits the genre so well, as this elegant and intricate expose of the intense rivalry between two grand dames of Hollywood losing their grip on the crown of stardom is directed by Emma Filby, co-producer of Frinton Summer Theatre.

This two-woman production sees BAFTA-nominated actress Greta Scacchi revive her role as Bette Davis opposite acclaimed stage and screen actress Felicity Dean’s Joan Crawford, in a magnificent recreation of Anton Burge’s razor-sharp play.

The production is beautifully curated within the dressing rooms of each actress during a day of filming. It is 1962 and Bette and Joan have each signed up to co-star in a relatively low-budget psychological thriller, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

These huge names and even bigger personalities both hanker for times gone by and while both characters are faced with very similar challenges in their stage of life, a bitter rivalry overwhelms them both.

While a prank-filled tit-for-tat feud provides the comic energy of the play, this is expertly contrasted with a gentle but unrelenting unveiling of each leading lady. Whether these insights come from themselves or their rival, we are intricately introduced to their most personal vulnerability.

Their childhood, their husbands, their children, their aspirations, their disappointments, their motivations; all are unwrapped and revealed to showcase who these women truly are – way beyond their public personas or the roles they have portrayed, even the Oscar-winning ones.

Scacchi and Dean give quite incredible performances, highlighting both of their characters’ devilish and diva-ish delight in their Hollywood status as well as their exploitation by the men who wield power around them, drawing empathy from the audience.

Will they in the end find reconciliation? Impossible. Will they find a mutual respect? Unlikely. Will they both be remembered? Undoubtedly.    

  • Bette and Joan continues until August 12 at The McGrigor Hall. Visit for tickets.

Reviewer: Julian Read