Betty! A sort of Musical

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In their local village hall, The Dewsbury Players: a unique blend of am-dram performers, have come together to celebrate their finest export and local hero, Betty Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons and arguably one of politics most fascinating characters.

With their individual visions on how best to do Miss Boothroyd justice, not to mention their wildly varied beliefs, the players are committed to uniting artistically to create a musical Dewsbury will never forget. The problem is, director Meredith (Maxine Peake) has falsely informed the BBC that the group offer a tad more diversity and community value than in reality; so, when BBC exec Adrita (Lena Kaur) turns up to rehearsals things take a rather creative and chaotic turn.

This play-within-a-play created by Maxine Peake and Seiriol Davies (who also stars as Calvin) is a riot. It’s bonkers, brilliant fun with a gorgeous message of love and acceptance at its heart. There’s laugh out loud political parody and some absolute genius lines while the script touchingly shines a light on each of the wonderful characters making up the group. Their observations on life are spot on, sharp, witty and entirely relatable.

The musical numbers are where the creative team have really had some fun, poking a gentle ribbing at traditional musicals; there’s enthusiastic choreography, musical theatre clichés and heart-warming solos all delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. Musical director Sarah Dyer leads a slick four-piece band who demonstrate an incredible range as they deliver both rousing ballads and rock-tastic numbers with precision.

Maxine Peake leads this ensemble cast brilliantly, firstly as demanding director Meredith, sniping constantly at her cast despite desperately needing them to fulfil her dramatic ambitions. Then second act she is transformed into the straight-talking, charismatic Boothroyd ready to take on the House in the challenges that befall her.

Co-writer Davies is a treat as Calvin, bursting with enthusiasm and a mediator to all, he delivers some of the shows most memorable and outrageously over the top moments brilliantly. Eva Scott portrays Angela, Meredith’s subdued and self-conscious daughter beautifully, showing her versatility throughout as she channels her inner confidence spurred on by the arrival of former friend Adrita.

Joan Kempson displays sharp comic timing as Hazel, the salt of the earth grandma who blasts out the one-liners and is poles apart from condescending Meredith. Carla Henry is a joy as Tracy, a former West End star who’s light still shines in Dewsbury despite her issues with her hubby at home and her weak ankle. I cried laughing at her Ian Paisley, no spoilers here but I’ll never hear Riverdance and not think of her performance. Lena Kaur’s take on BBC exec is spot on whilst her second act transformation is inspired.

Betty! A sort of Musical does exactly what it says on the tin, gives you a belly full of laughs and leaves you with a smile on your face. There are musical numbers which could maybe benefit from a little trimming, but this is a minor quibble on what’s a brilliantly entertaining show. This heady reminder of days when politicians stood for decency and duty is a whirlwind of hilarious, heart-warming fun. A welcome and well observed reminder of the importance of community and common ground.

Betty! A sort of Musical is on at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 14th January tickets available here.

Images Johan Persson

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