Joan Collins – One Night With Joan
Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
to February 9, 2014
Joan Collins' first end of year report at RADA was not encouraging. "If she doesn't work on her projection it will be the films for her", it sniffed loftily. Luckily for her, within 18 months she was signed to a contract with Rank and within 4 years she was in Hollywood, fighting off the advances, in every sense, of studio boss Darryl Zanuck. Her photogenic looks were to be her calling card and 60 years on fans come to pay homage to this freeze frame from the Golden Age. One minute an anachronism the next bang up to date, albeit pontificating, via her Daily Mail column, from poolside in St Tropez. There is no question but this woman is unique.
This show, which she's toured with intermittently in various forms since 2006, is produced and directed by husband no. five, Percy Gibson and is a Hymn to Her. Alone on a well bedecked stage and looking a million dollars, first in a stunning silver lamé trousers and then in a white crystal gown, she regales us with gossipy snippets from her extraordinary career. She narrates an expertly selected selection of clips and stills. Some are quite rare, reflecting the breadth of a career, which spanned turgid historical dramas such as Land of the Pharaohs or The Virgin Queen, up to the wonderfully tart Cinzano Bianco ads with Leonard Rossiter.
She's gone from "Coffee Bar Jezebel" to homemaker for Anthony Newley and kids, to hustling her way through the rapids of a career in Hollywood. Perhaps it was her solid secure middle class upbringing, which gave her the strength to resist the "diet pills" otherwise known as dexadrine, which the studio was pushing on her.
By the time she made it to the status of international sensation with Dynasty in 1981, at the age of 48, she was smart enough to know how to make it work and to make it last, as Random House found out to their peril when they sued her for non–delivery of a third novel. The clips from that court trial and the divorce court hearings when she split from Swedish playboy Peter Holm are an uncanny parallel to her performance as Alexis Carrington. Her agent Swifty Lazar wisely advised her not to feel defeated by the bullying lawyers at the Random House trial and to "be Alexis". She did and she won. Life imitating art.
Her many chat show appearances have revealed a great self–deprecating wit and it is odd therefore to witness her here stumbling over her lines or often killing a punchline stone dead. It proves she is in essence a screen performer and is a fish out of water on the live stage.
"Life's a predator, you got to eat it before it eats you" is a typical of the bumper sticker philosophising here. There is lots of gossip, most of it harmless, and it will all be familiar to the fans in any case. Some is ungenerous, especially to those who have safely passed on such as Bette Davis, Bing Crosby or Joan Crawford but then, when was gossip ever meant to be kind?
The show ends with a Q&A but all the questions submitted by audience members in advance are carefully filtered and read out on stage by Percy. The questioners are invited to take a bow but remain silent.
The show is testament to a Hollywood survivor, one who craves affirmation, but like the screen stars of old, one who wishes to keep the devoted at a safe distance. An odd evening.