Monday 25 November 2019

Queen Bette - Midsumma Festival preview

Visit Bette Davis’ grave and you’ll see the inscription on her tombstone reads: “she did it the hard way”, and indeed she did. During a Hollywood career that spanned 60 years, Davis made a name for herself as being a fiercely outspoken and independent woman at a time when Hollywood preferred their female stars to be demure and complaisant. Davis was quoted as saying “I survived because I was tougher than anyone else” and in Queen Bette, Jeanette Cronin retraces the life of the Hollywood icon and screen legend in a tribute performance to the woman who was regarded as the biggest bitch in Hollywood.

Apart from an uncanny resemblance to Davis, Cronin’s channeling of the Hollywood star in the 2015 premiere of Queen Bette was met with critical acclaim in her inimitable portrayal of Davis. However, before she felt comfortable becoming Davis, Cronin spent a substantial amount of time understanding her by reading books, interviews, stories and film viewings, to get as much insight as possible into Davis. “I suppose we had a mini Bette Festival in preparing for this show. The first volume of her autobiography, The Lonely Life, played a huge part in its creation, as did the many interviews she gave over her entire career,” Cronin tells me. “There is a wealth of material in the public domain and she was a great raconteur, very entertaining and articulate. A very bright lady. A lot of the dialogue is verbatim but there are also original speeches inspired by true events which I have penned.”

Maxwell Anderson’s play Elizabeth the Queen - which was the basis for the film, The Private Lives of Elizabeth And Essex - was a valuable source of inspiration as well, and I’m extremely grateful to have been introduced to this writer. Bette played Elizabeth twice in her career, first in The Private Lives of Elizabeth And Essex in 1939 when she was only 30-years old portraying a 60-year old Elizabeth, and then again in 1955 in The Virgin Queen,” she explains. “Elizabeth was Bette’s favourite person in history, so these two performances seemed like the perfect way to bookend our show. And thus, Queen Bette was born."

Even though it has been four years since Cronin first performed the role, it remains one she is infinitely happy to return to and keep returning to for as long as she can. “It is a joy to play someone who is so determined, so passionate and gifted. She is definitely something to aspire to. This production endlessly fills me up with good things. She is a gift to share," she says.

“Bette was such a force of nature, a benevolent volcano as actor Olivia De Havilland lovingly called her. She was wise, sharp, sassy, and full of heart. She had guts and determination. If she cared what anyone thought, she didn’t let on. She knew she wasn’t perceived as beautiful, she knew she wouldn’t get anything unless she fought for it. She ran her own race. She broke the mould and people really identify with that. What’s not to love about such a person?”

While Davis fans are in for a real treat when Queen Bette premieres as part of Midsumma Festival in January, Cronin assures me that this is a show that even those who know little about Bette Davis can be captivated by, as her legacy has had a far more reaching impact than people can imagine. “Bette was the "grandmommie" of screen acting. Her contribution lives on every screen, not just her own films,” she tells me. “This is someone who worked hard, never gave up and died having worked all her life in a profession she loved. She soared and she crashed, but she always got up. We need those people and we need to tell their stories.”


1. The one food you can't live without? Gin.
2. What is the worst smell in the world? Deception.
3. What is the strangest fact you know? Caesar had a horse with toes. Well, bordering on fact…
4. How long would you last in a zombie apocalypse? Not long. I’m always hungry.
5. Which animal are you most like? An undiscovered marsupial.


Venue: Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park 

Season: 21 January - 1 February | Tues - Sat 7:00pm (no shows Tues 28 or Wed 30), Sat 2:00pm
Duration: 75 minutes 
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Conc 
Bookings: Midsumma Festival 

Image Credits: Richard Hedger

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