Fresh and fun, with the potential for more
By Myron My
These days, you just need to look at a cover of a magazine or access a website to be bombarded with Hollywood stories and gossip. Some might say it’s the price to pay for being in the industry, however in Bette & Joan: Bitch. Slut. Liar. Whore., writer and performer David Morris explores how this type of reporting is predominantly focused on women and how not much has actually changed since Hollywood’s golden era.
As she sneaks into her bedroom to escape a dreary party, Bette Davis (Morris) comes to find the real party is in her bedroom, as she finds thirty audience members in there. She begins to reminisce about her life and the lost loves she has encountered. Of course, one such as Davis cannot reminisce about her Hollywood life without an appearance by her infamous arch-nemesis Joan Crawford, brilliantly played by Tom Halls. Having two gay men portray these immortal Hollywood stars is an effective and clever idea in reminding the audience of the fact that men who behave in this way are rarely scrutinised or expected to justify themselves to anyone.
Accompanied by pianist Shanon Whitelock, the musical numbers are highly enjoyable with the title track “Bitch. Slut. Liar. Whore.” perfectly displaying the tension between the two actors. The re-imagining of popular iconic tracks such as “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa are a great way of having them express their own sexuality and their own desires rather than playing to the male gaze.
While the narrative touches on the struggles these women faced in order to make it in Hollywood, I feel more thought was required on how to tell this complex story. Some moments, such as when Bette is recalling her failed marriages, ultimately add very little to the overall direction of the show, and seem to be forgotten about as quickly as they are brought up. The finale unfortunately also doesn’t seem to add anything of substance to the profound themes being explored, and cutting it in length would have kept the story tighter and more focused.
Despite the emotional turmoil and sacrifices Bette had to endure in order to be considered “as good as” and “as talented as” men, for me the extravagant and somewhat over-the-top way that Morris plays Bette doesn’t quite correlate with the more subtle emotional impact of what is being said. Similarly, the dialogue between Bette and Joan when they question the way they were treated in Hollywood feels rather forced and doesn’t ring with conviction over what is being said.
Bette & Joan: Bitch. Slut. Liar Whore is a distinctly enjoyable show with great music and quite a few laughs, that is admirably attempting to depict the struggles that these female stars faced in the golden age of Hollywood. Had there been a deeper look at how this really affected them though, I feel sure the show could then have created something even more telling of gender, sexuality and celebrity antagonism in the society they lived in then, and the one we live in now.
Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Season: Until 7 February | Fri, Sun 8.30pm, Sat 10.15pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: La Mama Theatre
Image by Luke Warm