Collins’s acclaimed one-woman show ‘One Night With Joan’ pays homage to the Aaron Spelling soap by opening with its theme music as images of Collins, as the fiercely beautiful Alexis, fill the auditorium.
We’re quickly reminded, however, that there’s more to Collins than her shoulder padded glory days, as she bursts on to the stage and peremptorily demands the music stops.
She proceeds to take us on a journey from her early years (it’s unsurprising that she comes from a theatrical family) through her days as a starlet at the Rank organisation, to her arrival in Hollywood.
Anecdotes abound as we’re treated to stories about her turning down Richard Burton (who even pleasured a toothless studio cleaner), receiving advice from Marilyn Monroe on the perils of the casting couch and losing out on the role of Cleopatra to Elizabeth Taylor.
These stories are accompanied by vintage stills and film clips of Collins through the years. Family photos are mixed with studio publicity shots and each are introduced with deadpan humour, and impeccable timing, as Collins streaks across the stage like a tigress, her black leggings and animal print gown showing off her still enviable figure.
Within minutes of arriving on stage it’s made clear that this isn’t a show about ‘a miserable childhood.’ Those expecting a darker tale behind the glitter will be disappointed. Her divorces are pithily glossed over, as are periods when work was hard to find.
Instead, we’re presented with a tale of survival – the life of a working actress – a woman not too grand to take roles in numerous lacklustre, and some downright appalling films because she had to feed a large family. It’s Collins’ refreshingly self-deprecating style that draws us in.
Above all, however, this is an evening about glamour. It’s a master class in how to create it and sustain it, and most crucially, perform it. And Collins is the ultimate teacher.
The most revealing part of the show comes when Collins reflects on her 1996 lawsuit with Random House for an unpublished novel. In the first of two courtroom clips shes breaks down in tears in front of a particularly brutal lawyer. It’s an unexpected, quiet moment of fragility.
Collins ponders how she was going to survive this court case. “Be Alexis”, a friend advises. Cut to a second clip: an effervescent Collins toys with the lawyer, all quick-fire wit and feminine wiles. She turns to the audience, and with a saucy wink, proudly states that she won the case, walking away with millions of dollars.
This is what Joan Collins is about – the business of myth making. It’s the delicate act of masks and shape shifting; of knowing just how much to show and when. And making that look effortless. Few do it better than Collins.
One Night With Joan is at The Leicester Square Theatre, until 28 April.
Words: Alex Hopkins