City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Bette Davis ain't for Sissies, Assembly Rooms, Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 10 August 2014

Jessica Sherr as Bette Davis
Show details
Assembly Rooms
Jessica Sherr
Running time: 
Jessica Sherr (writer), Antony Raymond (director)
Jessica Sherr (Bette Davis)

As part of the Free Fringe 2013, I was extremely fortunate to catch the final performance of “Bette Davis ain’t for Sissies” being staged in a cramped room above a pub on Picardy Place.

I awarded the show a glittering 5 stars: “This deserves to go on the road - West End and then Broadway”.

Ms Sherr did take the play to New York and she’s now back in Edinburgh, this time at the Assembly Rooms in a revised, refined, and richly dramatised version of her one-woman play.

“I have been uncompromising, peppery, intractable, monomaniacal, tactless, volatile, and oftentimes disagreeable . . . I suppose I'm larger than life” (Bette Davis).

Just as Davis excelled at playing selfish, mean-spirited and mysterious women on screen, Sherr took on the artistic challenge of capturing the multi-faceted personality of this Hollywood diva.

The set is a hotel bedroom: sofa, telephone, coat stand, (hats, bags, frocks, lingerie), dressing table; whiskey decanter and cigarettes close at hand.

With her ravishing red hair, petite slim figure gracefully draped in a red satin ballgown, Ms Davis strolls – strides - through the theatre and on to the stage.

It’s Oscar Night, 1939, and she’s been nominated as best actress for her electrifying performance as Judith Traherne in Dark Victory. But the news that Vivien Leigh will take the Oscar is leaked in advance and Bette has returned to the hotel in a vicious rage.

Snatching up the phone, she shrieks, “No goddamn calls, I’m a star and need my rest!”, only to hear her mother’s voice which calms her down.

No wonder she’s mad at missing out on the Oscar. She actually turned down the role of Scarlett O’Hara, “and they go all the way to England to find a Southern gal!”, she spits out in fury.

We are then taken on a zigzagging journey through her life and times, on and off screen, the gossip, the scandal, rivalries, romances. Anecdotes are laced with Bette’s wry humour.

Arriving in Hollywood, the studio wanted to change her name to Bettina Dawes, which she promptly refused, saying she would not have a name that sounded like between the drawers.

She could never compete with the beautiful, sexy, blonde starlets, so pursued roles demanding dramatic realism. A tough cookie on and off screen, Davis’ willingness to explore the dark recesses of human nature with uncompromising pathos and honesty won her two Oscars for best actress in Dangerous and Jezebel.

Music and audio extracts from her movies colourfully illustrate her narrative of endless auditions, (“Of course I can sing and dance”), directors’ notes, (“More Brooklyn!”), and the slavery of studio contracts.

What is revealed clearly is how she stood up for artistic integrity. Bold, brash, intelligent and articulate, she was a perfectionist: “I don’t lounge about . . . I am an actress and will own that screen”.

Jessica Sherr is mesmerising to watch - a dynamic performance reflecting both the vanity and vulnerability. Here is Bette Davis on stage: the sultry voice, sensual smile, iconic sparkling eyes, glamorously portrayed with compassion, vivacity and pure wit.

Show times: 31 July – 24 August at 14:45.
Ticket Prices: £10.00 (£9.00