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Queen Bette

G.bod Theatre, The Old 505 Theatre and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival presents: QUEEN BETTE, devised by Peter Mountford and Jeanette Cronin, from an original idea by Peter Mountford, at the Old 505 Theatre, Hibernian House, Elizabeth St, Central Railway. 25 February to 15 March, 2015.

QUEEN BETTE at the Old 505 Theatre is a delight and I recommend it, especially to the fans of Bette Davis and, as well, to those of you interested in the ‘mysteries’ that spawn such a prodigious talent which has been captured forever on film.

QUEEN BETTE is a one hour, one woman show devised by Peter Mountford and Jeanette Cronin focusing on the career of one of the great actors and cult figures of the American cinema. What compounds the delight, the pleasure of this performance, is the dignified respect that both the devisors have given to this woman as artist. None of the usual, expected ‘camperies’ of the cult legend, vocal and physical mannerisms armed with the (in)famous quotations from her films and life, are indulged (there are enough trace triggers to memory to keep the fans happy, though) and instead, we receive an enlightening insight into the artistic/mechanisms’ of the artist at work, and exemplars of the sacrifices of the obsessive drive of any true and successful ‘genius’. There have been, therefore, necessarily, exclusions of the life and legend – so QUEEN BETTE, is a selective impressionistic take, that re-enforces the artist temperament of Ms Davis over some of the personal dilemmas of her ‘dramatic’ force of life journey.

So, the text is beautifully constructed in its very focused interests (I understand 90% of it is directly the ‘voice’ of Bette Davis, mined from research of books (e.g. THE LONELY LIFE, by Bette Davis – 1962) and interviews!). Add, the deeply committed and impeccably observed artistry of Ms Cronin, who possesses, more often than not, an uncanny ‘look’ of the original actor, and an amazing transportive and satisfying hour can be had.

I grew up in the 1950’s and television was the sensation of recreational home life, and Bette Davis’ (and others, of course) became stars once again, as we were privileged to watch broadcasts of movies from the decades before – with commercials. In black and white (especially, the luminous cinema-photography of the Warner Brothers Studio films) I remember sitting in the thrall of the great ‘melodramas’ of the so-called Golden Hollywood era. I remember, particularly, the tear-jerkers of Ms Davis: JEZEBEL (1938), DARK VICTORY (1939), THE OLD MAID (1939), ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO (1940), THE LETTER (1940) and NOW, VOYAGER (1942). I recall, fondly, all of us, my family, crying away in the climactic moments of the film/stories and denying we were doing so – Dad, as well – and relishing the exhilaration of a sated catharsis. Bette Davis was indeed, the Queen of my cinema heroines. Later, in my film going appreciation, films such as THE LITTLE FOXES (1941), ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), even WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? – which, by the way I re-visited only recently, with friends – began to be added to the pantheon of my idolatory of this artist.

The text of this show uses the conceit of Ms Davis’ impersonation of Elizabeth I in two films: THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX (1939) and THE VIRGIN QUEEN (1950) – two not so great films of hers – as the well-spring of the mechanism of the play, but, also, travels into many of the others, as a source of personal revelation for us to embrace.

For fans of Bette Davis, QUEEN BETTE, is a must. For others interested in the source of the creative ‘energies’ of a great artist, too, QUEEN BETTE, is a worth while indulgence.

P.S. By way of explanation of my absence from blogging last month, I was ill with a Summer Flu and my wifi was down. Now that all is finding an equilibrium, I have decided to blog backwards, so that the current performances that I have seen can be covered. Though, I do not consider my writing as a “selling” mechanism, but, rather, a ‘telling” one. Still, I should keep the current work in front of my readers, in case it triggers an impulse to go to the theatre. Thanks for your indulgence.