The first female Speaker of the House of Commons tells her life story on stage, but instead of being a dry political drama, it sees actress Maxine Peake singing in her first musical and returning to her comedy roots.
Betty Boothroyd never fulfilled her childhood dreams of kicking her way to showbiz stardom.
She found she wasn’t cut out to be a chorus line singer at the London Palladium, so her stint as a member of the Tiller Girls dance group after World War II was short-lived.
But his acting talent was not in vain.
She moved to another public stage as she pursued her other passion, politics, ending up with a leading role in the House of Commons as the first woman Speaker from 1992 to 2000.
“Politicians, like the Tiller Girls, are public performers,” she wrote in her autobiography. “They forget it at their peril.”
Maxine Peake agrees. “I think the worlds of politics and theater collide,” he says. “My grandfather always told me: ‘Politicians, Maxine, are frustrated actors.’ And she really has that charisma and presence.”
Betty (now Baroness) Boothroyd is widely admired for the way she won over the crowd in the House of Commons. That inspired Peake and co-writer and co-star Seiriol Davies to tell the story of her life on stage.
“We just felt like she was someone to celebrate,” says Peake. “You look at her accomplishments. It’s what she stands for, and her work ethic, what she’s done, what her beliefs were.
“And then when you start with someone who used to be a Tiller Girl, you think, well, this could be fun, especially for a musical.”
As well as deciding against the predictable idea of a straightforward and serious biographical work, the title of the Peake and Davies show suggests that it is no ordinary musical either.
Betty! A Sort of Musical opened at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theater on Saturday. The “kind” in the name refers to the fact that it’s a show within a show: it follows an amateur drama group in Lady Boothroyd’s hometown of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who try to stage a musical about their heroine. local
Each member of the fictional Dewsbury Players takes turns playing Lady Boothroyd and performing a song about a different stage in her life. Each tune goes on a different flight of fancy, with themes from Grease and James Bond and a Queen-inspired Boothroydian Rhapsody.
“Whether we’re in a Bond film or a kitchen sink drama, they’re all elevated to the level of absurdity,” Davies explains.
He adds: “We don’t promise that things are biographically correct, although we believe that there is some truth in every moment. But it’s not a biomusical. It’s a musical about people who create myths about a woman they to hold.” .”
Davies says he was inspired by Lady Boothroyd’s overall “fabulousness”, as well as her “explicit glamor and showmanship”.
Additionally: “I think she’s a unifying figure. If anyone’s heard of Betty, chances are they’re at least in awe of her, or if not a little obsessed with her.”
“But if anyone hasn’t heard of her, I just have to tell them that she used to be the kick-line showgirl and the KGB tried to set her up, and then she rose to the second highest rank of ordinary people on earth or whatever..
“That’s a story, regardless of which political side the bread is buttered.”
The characters in Dewsbury’s am-dram group have buttered their bread on different sides, but agree that Lady Boothroyd, as Peake also believes, is a symbol of democratic respectability and stability compared to today’s politicians.
“She united the House of Representatives with her skill, wit and intelligence. I was very sorry that she had missed him.”
Peake plays Meredith Ankle, matriarch of the am-dram group and owner of Ankle Carpets. It is hard not to discover the influence of Victoria Wood, who gave Peake her first break in Dinnerladies, in the way she extracted humor from the most mundane situations.
“She’s such an inspiration, even before I worked with her, growing up,” says Peake.