One of the startling things that comes out of Danielle Ward’s play is how the comedy industry is stacked against women’s success.
The once-popular double act Anderson and West have reunited for one last performance together, an extract from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, ten years after they last met. It’s a nasty reunion, full of loathing and recriminations about the reasons they split.
Nods to the infamous Davis/Crawford feud are clever. Ward shows how these two, like Bette and Joan, were not driven apart just because of their own faults and failures, but also because they were working – and succeeding – in an industry dominated by men.
So Anna Crilly’s desperate, morose West can barely cope as a working single mum, and Margaret Cabourn-Smith’s Anderson – sometimes cruel, sometimes caring – takes a part in a sitcom despite knowing that she’d be starring alongside a man who sexually assaulted her.
Although billed as comedy, it’s really not. Partly that’s deliberate – Ward takes the play down an increasingly harrowing route. But the more overtly comic opening scenes struggle to find laughs too.
This is Ward’s debut as a director, and there are some slow transitions between scenes, as well as strange inconsistencies in tone and texture, but it’s a strong play with a blinding ending.