Joan Collins Unscripted
Theatre Royal Norwich
by DavidIt was an adoring and devoted audience that took their seats at Norwich's Theatre Royal last night for an evening with Joan Collins Unscripted. Whilst not themselves sporting trademark shoulder pads or the huge hair styles of the 1980's, these fans of the iconic star obviously still remember her with great affection for her rôle as super-bitch Alexis Carrington in the defining television drama Dynasty.
It may be a while since Dame Joan trod the boards of the Norwich stage, although she was here in 1979 with John Gielgud to film an episode for Anglia Television's Roald Dahl's Tales of The Unexpected. However what may not be widely known is that her father, the theatrical agent Joe Collins, was once co-owner of the Theatre Royal itself. He and business partner acquired the lease in 1956 and switched to screening films before selling on to Essoldo, who then applied in 1965 to convert to a bingo hall. That move was blocked by Norwich City Council, who then acquired the building and managed to secure its existence as a live theatre.
As we await the start of the evening a montage of old home movie clips of Joan and family are projected onto a screen above the stage, which is bare save a pair of gold armchairs and a gold carpet. As the projection switches to a shot of present-day Joan, still looking glamorous and gorgeous, we realise that this is live hand-held footage, and she arrives on stage to rapturous applause. She introduces her husband, Percy Gibson, co-host for the evening, who then lays out the ground rules for tonight's show.
Certain subjects will be off-limits, starting with the obvious – politics and religion, but then extending into a comically never-ending list that scrolls onto the screen to the strains of the Benny Hill Show's Yakety Sax. Instead we are encouraged to ask questions from a much briefer selection that includes safer options like 'Philosophy of Live' and 'Dynasty'. Those in the stalls take advantage of two roving mikes (managed by two young ladies appropriately known as Alexis and Krystal) to pose our questions. Those in the circle are given the option of tweeting, using #askdamejoan, or by completing a card in the foyer.
Dame Joan is composed and relaxed, no doubt reassured by having hubby acting as compère, moderator, and memory prompt should a film title or actor's name ever threaten to hover in recall. This is a slickly-produced show, with a host of photographs and film clips available with seemingly instant access to accompany each and every anecdote and story. So slick, in fact, that initially one wonders if the entire evening has actually been scripted in advance using 'planted' questions.
However, you cannot 'plant' an entire audience, and it soon becomes obvious, if only by the fumbling and unfamiliarity in the use of radio mikes, that these are genuine Norfolk folk getting a chance to talk directly to the great lady herself.
Many of the questions are of the predictable mix - “Who was your favourite leading man?” (Answer – Paul Newman), “What is your favourite beauty tip? (Answer - “Moisturise”), but others are a little more curve-ball, and elicit approving 'oohs' and 'aahs' from elsewhere in the audience. One of my favourites came via Twitter from Jason, who asked “How did you enjoy your rôle on Star Trek, and did you know what it would develop into later?”(Joan Collins appeared in an episode from the very first series, City On The Edge Of Forever, where her character is rescued from the 1930's in a tale of time-travel). Another wants to know whether Dame Joan still has all her engagement rings (as well as five husbands Joan Collins was once engaged to Warren Beatty). This question is answered with a smile, good grace, and also a candid reply.
A brief interval is preceded by an affectionate pick of television advertisements in which dame Joan has appeared, including the legendary splash of Cinzano with the late Leonard Rossiter, and the more recent 'Don't be a diva' for Snickers. A popular piece of nostalgia that also underlines the star's sense of humour and talent for self-parody.
The second half contains yet more clips and stories, and more questions from the audience. We are treated to further fond memories of Paul Newman (and his salad dressing), secrets from the shooting of the infamous cat fights with Linda Evans in Dynasty (and advice from Gene Kelly about putting stunt actors out of work), and we are reminded of the legendary one-liner delivered to Arthur Loew Jnr. (son of the president of MGM Studios) – When he reportedly once whispered into her ear, “You're such a fucking bore”, Joan Collins instantly and coolly hit back with the immortal put-down, “And you are such a boring fuck”. Yes, we got to hear the great Dame Joan Collins use the F-word twice in one sentence. That has to be worth the admission price on its own, and certainly puts the more recent “Zip it, Shrimpy!” firmly in its place.
There is a deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening – even those of us who were not committed fans have been won over by a legendary performer. She leaves us with these parting words resonating in my head -
“Live every day as though it is your last. One day it will be!"