Betty! A Sort of Musical, Royal Exchange, Review

Betty! A Sort of Musical, Royal Exchange, Review


Posted 2022-12-11 by David Keyworthfollow

Sat 03 Dec 2022 - Sat 14 Jan 2023

The Royal Exchange Theatre usually likes to end the year with a rousing show, underpinned by a serious theme.

BETTY! A Sort of Musical is no exception to this rule. It concerns an amateur-dramatics society, The Dewsbury Players, who decide to stage a world premiere of their own show about Betty Boothroyd. After all, she is not just a daughter of their West Yorkshire town but also a former MP and now Baroness, who became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.

Maxine Peake (who takes writing credits along with fellow cast member, Seiriol Davies), plays the group's matriarch, Meredith Ankle. She contorts vowels into unnatural shapes and wears her snobbery and antipathy to the contemporary world with pride. Same sex couples on Strictly are just one of her bugbears.

In the words of Hazel (Joan Kempson), she crushes our self-esteem of a Wednesday evening.

There is a slight disconnect with Meredith, such a conservative figure, wanting to make a musical about a Labour politician but not enough to spoil the enjoyment.

I'm not quite sure why the show is described as 'a sort of musical' because it is threaded through with songs. They are used as a narrative vehicle to reveal the story of Betty Boothroyd's remarkable life.

Many of them are shameless pastiches. One of the most enjoyable takes its inspiration from the James Bond songbook. It tells the tale of Betty's visit to Moscow and the attempt by the KGB to recruit her, via a seducer called Tony and MI5 to get her to spy on her fellow Labour Party members."This I know for certain, you must part the Iron Curtain."

Overall, BETTY! A Sort of Musical owes quite a lot to The Producers - the Royal Exchange's Christmas show four years ago. But more like a version of The Producers written by Victoria Wood, rather than Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan."Avant Garde? This is Dewsbury not Leeds!"The second half starts in spectacular style with Betty descending to the House of Commons in her Speaker's Chair, accompanied by stage smoke. It then gets camper with a routine based on Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

Riotously enjoyable as this was, it was in danger of overwhelming the story of thwarted ambitions and lost romance. But an electrical shock from a faulty tea urn turns out to be the unlikely circuit route back to the human drama.

The show sees Maxine Peake reunited with director Sarah Frankcom who she has previously collaborated with on Happy Days and Hamlet amongst a distinguished line up.

BETTY! A Sort of Musical may not be their most groundbreaking work but it must surely be the most fun they have had with a production. We, the audience, audibly rejoiced in the exuberance and humanity of the show, whichever side of the house we were sitting on.

#theatre -reviews
!date 03/12/2022 -- 14/01/2023
71442 - 2023-01-26 01:53:44


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