Leicester Square Theatre, London
Summary: Highly engaging and comic skip through the ups and downs of Ms Collins’ life
If you were asked to name a RADA trained actress, with a multi-decade, multi award winning career covering TV, film and stage, who’s also a best selling novelist, you’d be forgiven for not having Joan Colins on the top of your list (or on it at all).
The amazing thing about Joan Collins is that despite being so prolific and successful for so many years, she’s been engrained into our cultural psyche for just a smattering of her achievements: Dynasty, The Stud, The Bitch, doing Playboy at 50. And, within the first few minutes of her one-woman show, we get a sense of her quite remarkable past.
One Night is, in essence, a skim through her life from birth to today, a series of amuse bouche anecdotes from her two memoirs. But what a life it appears to have been. Born into a very theatrical family (consisting of impresarios, variety performers, theatre producers, dancing girls), it was no surprise, despite her father’s protestations, that she took to the stage. And, from tonight’s production, it’s a place where she’s very happy to be.
The setting for One Night is effortlessly simple; a few occasional tables and a rather grand chair, all of which appeared to be borrowed from The Savoy. The backdrop of this ‘parlour’ is a large video screen upon which various extracts from her film and TV career are projected to help in the storytelling. Then, of course, there’s Joan, looking so much younger than her years (she will only claim to ‘being born in the second third of the 20th century’).
Either parading around the stage or lounging in her throne-like chair, Joan seems very at ease on the stage and regales us with well-crafted and engaging tales. She’s self –deprecating where she needs to be; she knows when she’s done some turkeys, and she doesn’t hide that. She’s also very witty and rather playful, making it easy and enjoyable to watch and listen to her.
The show is presented in chronological order from her earliest childhood, through her development in the UK, then in Hollywood, onto her demise (when she was past it at 27!), her, possibly ill-judged B-movie revival, through to TV and to where she is now.
To say that Joan has had a packed and eventful life, would be an understatement. By the time she was 27, she’d gone through the Rank Studios system, been picked up by Fox (in Hollywood) and acted alongside the likes of Bette Davis, Gene Kelly, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Jane Mansfield, Richard Burton, Robert Wagner, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby… and the list goes on.
She’s gone on through 5 marriages, brought-up 6 kids (3 of her own, 3 step kids), was close bankruptcy, undergone significant media backlash (for the films The Stud and The Bitch), fought a highly public (and world record setting) legal case with Random House publishers, sold over 50 million books and more besides. And this is the problem with the show.
For a two-hour show, that’s a lot to cram in and, as a result, the show feels superficial and lacking in emotion. To progress the evening and cover as much ground as possible, momentous occasions are addressed with throwaway remarks like ‘…and then Hollywood called’ or ‘…and that was divorce number one’. A show focussing on a narrower part of her life or one facet of her career would, you’d imagine, be a significantly more rewarding experience. As it is, you get to know so much more about Joan, without actually getting to know her; a very tough thing to achieve.
It may be hard to see who, aside from Joan Collins’ fans, would want to see this show, but that would be doing this show an injustice. One Night gives us a glimpse, albeit veneered and fairy-tale simplistic, through the golden ages of film and TV from someone who was not only there, but was one of their poster children. And an insider’s glimpse into the two art forms that have most shaped the world we live in, when told with this much charm, makes for an entertaining and mildly educational evening.