Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies

Writer and performer Jessica Sherr claims she has always been in love with the 1930s and 40s and it shows in this enjoyable and insightful one-woman show.

She is sardonic, sultry, sexy, vicious and vivacious, dominating the stage from word one (Bette would've been proud).

On the night of the 1939 Academy Awards Bette Davis finds out she is losing her third Oscar to Vivien Leigh after the LA Times leak the results. Bette leaves the party, heads home, pours herself a stiff drink and tells it how it is.

Sherr inhabits Bette Davis, a woman she shares more than a passing resemblance to, with accuracy and commitment. The details of Sherr's performance are a masterclass in doing a lot with a little. It will seem an odd example to point out, but the way Sherr does an upward nod, exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke after discussing her friends' lives and declaring they're “too healthy” is a beautiful moment of comic and dramatic underplay and timing: so much about the character is said with one tiny gesture. As that example may attest, it is Sherr's performance that makes this show. She is sardonic, sultry, sexy, vicious and vivacious, dominating the stage from word one (Bette would've been proud). She paints Bette as a force to be reckoned with and is mesmeric, every inch the original queen of Hollywood.

Director Antony Raymond ramps up the retro feel and directs many scenes as if they have been plucked straight from the Bette Davis back catalogue. As Bette pines for other times or other places, a sweeping orchestral score regularly floods in making these scenes akin to a key moment from a 1930s blockbuster hit. This device may sound cheesy or cheap but it works a treat thanks to the detailed set and dedicated performance.

Although the script does occasionally veer off course or drop a superbly clunky or cliched line (“‘cause in life that's all you get – one take”) all is forgiven thanks to Sherr – a female powerhouse who would have given the studios of old a run for their money if they had had the chance.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

It’s early evening of 1939 Academy Awards, young Miss Davis is nominated for Best Actress and the Los Angeles Times leaked the Oscar winners early! ‘This year Vivian Leigh will take home the Oscar for Best Actress’. Newspaper in hand, the bold and defiant Bette Davis decides to leave! Journey into the young starlet’s battle to win freedom from the control of Hollywood. Witness Bette’s most defining moments as a tenacious young actress fighting her way to the top. See what happens when someone who always wins... loses. ‘Honest and insightful’ (Scotsman). ‘Highly recommended’ (FringeReview.co.uk).