Alison Utting and Julie Hewitt in Bette and Joan - Photo: Barry Parsons

The rivalry between two of the most famous names in early Hollywood is at the heart of this engaging double-hander play.

The action of Bette and Joan focuses on a single day in the filming of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, a last throw of the dice for both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis – two actors seen to be at the end of their careers.

The low-budget film became a cult classic, with roles that took both women out of their comfort zones and a plot so scandalous that it earned it an X certificate in the UK.

Anton Burge’s play is not quite so terrifying, though it is peppered with some fruity language – and it is a play of words. We mostly flit between the two stars, hearing a series of monologues as they reminisce and regret, and give some deliciously bitchy verdicts on fellow Tinseltown players, and especially each other.

Julie Hewitt as Crawford and Alison Utting as Davis rise impressively to the challenging setup, seldom off stage for the two-hour run. Hewitt portrays Crawford as a controlled, almost ethereal being, mostly gliding over life until the pretence can’t help but breakdown. Utting’s Davis is tough and crass – but yet we see that exterior crack when she talks to her family, or wistfully remembers what might have been.

It’s a slight shame that Burge’s script doesn’t do more to flesh out their characters beyond the namechecks from their careers, or lace up the flashes of barbed humour into more prolonged laughs; I’m certain both of these two real-life actors could have delivered both.

Even without, it’s an entertaining look behind the curtain of the lost world of the pictures, brought to life by two dazzling performers.

Bette and Joan continues at Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich until Saturday, April 27, 2024