Bette Davis: Ain’t for Sissies Fiddler’s Elbow

Anyone remember that song from the 80’s by Kim Carnes called “Bette Davis Eyes”…?

Well, not only did writer and performer Jessica Sherr possess those very same eyes, but she also – without too much effort – had the look, the stance, the voice, and the highly mannered persona of the Hollywood legend right there in front of you!

Over the course of an hour, Ms Sherr took her audience back to a far-gone time in Hollywood’s past. In fact to the Oscar ceremony of 1939, when the divine Miss Davis was up for yet another Oscar (she already had 2, which Ms Sherr proudly pointed out to us on a number of occasions!) but this time was expecting disappointment.

Although, through painted red lips and artistically gritted teeth, she was ready to acknowledge to her audience, that with this being the year of “Gone With The Wind” and Vivien Leigh, she was prepared and expected to lose. Ironically for a role that she had originally been offered!

Bette Davis was without doubt, the biggest female star in Hollywood during the 30’s & 40’s. Yet she was no soft touch glamour puss. She was a fiercely ambitious, hard driven, committed actress. And that is Actress with a capital A. All this is powerfully put across by Ms Sherr’s equally committed performance in her role of a lifetime.

From her first grand entrance (she even at one point in the play elegantly strips down to her underwear, that is real devotion to her craft!) she firmly grasps the thorny and uncompromising nature of her character for all it is worth. With a firm and steady gaze (and with signature cigarette in hand) Ms Sherr brings Bette back to life, as she recollects her early struggles in making it on her own terms as a serious actress. From Broadway to Hollywood, although once arrived there the studios were a little puzzled as to her exact appeal, and just as puzzled as to what she could bring to the screen.

Ms Sherr with sheer gutsy ferocity brings her spirit back to life, in all her Warner Brothers style and panache. She highlights in particular Davis’s combative relationship with Jack Warner, something that would go on to make her many enemies within the Hollywood establishment. And as she freely admitted, she could be a real “ball-breaker” when it came to fighting her corner against the odds. But ironically, despite losing a complex court case against Warner Bros studios, she would eventually win in the long term, as the overall quality of her roles (something that she was determined to achieve) would greatly increase as a consequence of her principled stand.

With the faint sound of music from Dark Victory & Now Voyager supporting the performance, Jessica Sherr gives the audience a glimmer into the mind of a Hollywood icon at her peak. No false modesty or soft-soaping, just a portrait of a woman defying the odds and confirming her talent and boundless energy, regardless of the conventions of the time.
Whether you are a Bette Davis fan, or someone who is just constantly entranced by stories of the stars and personalities of the golden age of old Hollywood, this show is something to absolutely revel in and enjoy.

And as for the glamorous Ms Sherr, well (in the words of Miss Davis), just be prepared to fasten your seat belts, as, I can assure you, it will be anything but a bumpy show!

Lawrence Lettice