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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Whatever Happened to the Cotton Dress Girl?
New End Theatre Summer 2008

The title rings a bell - replace Cotton Dress Girl with Baby Jane and the immediate association would be Bette Davis. Appropriately, Paula Wilcox performs an impressive 85 minute solo act as Davis, in a dressing room set resembling the decor of 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.'

Anton Burge's script, Ninon Jerome's direction and Paula Wilcox's performance successfully capture much of Bette Davis' formidable personality and screen image. The title refers to Davis' early ingenue roles, which were quickly replaced by those reflecting her personality as a formidable actress.

Wilcox embodies that image in venting Davis' thoughts, memories and comments, while removing stage makeup and gesturing characteristically, with or without the signature cigarette (and, on this occasion, coping in character with a rebellious cigarette lighter).

Burge's monologue covers Davis' road to Hollywood stardom and her battles to retain both star status and artistic integrity. At her peak the queen of Warner Brothers studios, Wilcox's Davis reminds the audience that she is well aware she was never a beauty. With her 'poached egg eyes and Alice in Wonderland neck' her success must be attributed to her talent alone, along with her gutsy determination.

In Hollywood, she tells us - and lets us know she's speaking with authority - you need a thick skin and a short memory to survive. Davis wants to be understood but does not care if she's liked - her enemies are those who get in the way of her work.

Davis saves some of her snidest comments for Joan Crawford, her co-star in 'Baby Jane' and in a long-running feud, and Wilcox generates a lot of humour with her timing and delivery of the mocking of Crawford without exposing more than a hint of envy.

Paula Wilcox shows us both Bette Davis the celebrity and star and the woman born Ruth Elizabeth Davis with the frailties, strengths and humour that created and sustained her.

Rivka Jacobson

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Review - Whatever Happened to the Cotton Dress Girl - New End 2008