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Bette & Joan The Final Curtain – A First Time Director’s Perspective

Bryon Fear spoke with Caroline Beckett and asked her to describe her experiences making her directorial debut for SLT.

This is your first time as a director even though you’ve performed many times as an actor. What made you want to direct?

I’ve been assistant director a few times, and after really enjoying doing Stones in his Pockets last year I just thought I’d give it a go. As much as anything else I wanted to see if I could stretch to the creative challenge. Of course it’s a different skill set, and there’s a huge amount of responsibility for everything. As an actor you learn your lines, rock up and work at rehearsals, but as director you’re doing so much in between times to bring things together – whether that’s props, people, and in my case filming too. It’s been very challenging – maybe more than I expected, and I have to say it can feel a bit lonely, even with support from a lot of people.

What have been the main challenges for you as a new director?

I’m quite an organised person, but it’s been the co-ordination and planning and making sure people and things are in the right place at the right time. The play is complicated technically, and there’s been a lot to think about and arrange in order to get it right – no spoilers! Directing the actors has been the most rewarding thing and was always the thing I had most looked forward to – and the four of them have been a joy, so it’s also been the easiest part.

SLT did a completely different Bette & Joan play last year. Why did you chose this one?

I saw it first at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 and then again in London in early 2015, and just loved its humour and invention – plus the fact that Bette and Joan’s careers are so fascinating, even aside from their famous feud. There’s also some sadness and regret at the core of it, but it doesn’t become melancholic.

The Anton Burge play is probably a bit more serious and elegant, with the two actors delivering much of their back stories in monologue form, whereas in Bette & Joan The Final Curtain they interact throughout – with some (I hope!) very funny, almost slapstick moments and a fantasy element, including several flashbacks. Another difference is the introduction of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the infamous Hollywood gossip columnists who wielded extraordinary power in Tinseltown. I hope the audience will find it just as entertaining as Jess Osorio’s fine production last year, but it is very different – and if you’re a fan of Bette and Joan’s movies (especially All About Eve and What Ever happened to Baby Jane?) you’ll find lots of references, some more subtle than others!

What has been your most surprising moment during the rehearsals?

The ability of Gill Manly and Helen Chadney (Bette and Joan respectively)  to drag themselves across the floor – not quite commando style, but done very convincingly! What hasn’t been a surprise is their ability to capture the essence of these two sparring Hollywood icons – and the comic perfection of Audrey Lindsay and Kim Goldsmith as Hedda and Louella is a treat in store for the audience.

After this experience, will you direct again?

Honestly? I really don’t know. I’ve enjoyed it, but it is a huge amount of work and I’ll only know if I’m any good at it by the reaction of the audience – and how my lovely cast feel about their director!

Bette & Joan – The Final Curtain opens at Stanley Halls on Tuesday 10 October for five nights. Sorry, no latecomers admitted

To avoid disappointment, buy your tickets in advance here.

Rehearsal photographs by Chris Vian-Smith