THE clue is in the title - Betty! A sort of Musical.

In many respects it’s a show which only Manchester’s Royal Exchange would dream of putting on over the festive season - an amateur dramatics company in Dewsbury deciding to write a musical about one of the town’s most celebrated figures, the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd, and the chaos that ensues as they try to bring it to the stage.

In real life, Betty has been written by Seiriol Davies and Maxine Peake who are both part of the ensemble cast.

“Of course it’s not a Christmas show as such,” said Seiriol, selected by The Stage as as one of 25 figures to shake up the theatre landscape in the next 25 years. “But in many ways it is a very festive show but it’s a show which will work all year round.

The Bolton News: Seiriol Davies (Picture: Michael Shelford)

“At first glance the concept might seem unusual but really it’s about a bunch of people putting on a play. It’s about these lovable misfits putting on their show about Betty Boothroyd and the wheels are coming off; beefs from years gone by come to the surface but ultimately it’s about the inspiration they take from Betty and from each other.

“Structurally there’s a definite Christmas Carol vibe to it. It’s about people learning lessons from the past and coming together as a sort of family, all these things which are inherently festive although to my knowledge there’s no tinsel.

“I’ve never been known for doing something without a little sparkle but I’m working with lot of people more restrained than I am,” he quipped.

Seiriol describes working with Maxine Peake, the award-winning actress who has a special relationship with the Royal Exchange, as being great experience.

The Bolton News: Maxine Peake (Picture: Paul Husband)

“She’s just a joy to work with,” he said. “From the first minute there has never been a problem of thinking up jokes or coming up with big ideas.”

Sarah Frankcom, the former artistic director at the Royal Exchange, is directing Betty and has been able to channel their joint creative energies.

“She’s been mum,” said Seiriol, “she’s always been the adult in the room and kept us on the straight-ish and narrow-ish and ensured that the story is being told properly.

“It’s been phenomenal writing with Maxine and then to get into rehearsals with her as a performer. But then the whole ensemble are all firecrackers, it’s all a matter of leashing us to the same chariot and watching it fly.”

The spirit of Betty Boothroyd is inextricably linked to the production. One of the most remarkable political figures in recent times her no-nonsense approach as Speaker endeared her to the public. Now 93 she’s still an active member of the House of Lords.

“Growing up in the Nineties I was very aware of her,” said Seiriol. “She didn’t take any nonsense and didn’t speak posh, she was someone you could believe in.

“In the production, the Dewsbury Players have written scenes from periods in her life, we call them the little dreamworlds. There’s her life growing up in Dewsbury in the 1930s, there’s her time in Tiller Girls in 40s and Labour Youth movement in the 50s. so she is present in that way and her story is told in a really loose but truthful way.

“You don’t get any facts from it but you will feel her energy and get a sense of her character.”

Although he has seen productions at the Royal Exchange before this is the first time Seiriol will have worked at the theatre which is a unique space.

“Sarah Frankcom commissioned the work when she was artistic director at the Royal Exchange,” he said, “and that has been really useful as she has been able to be the voice that tells us what will work and what won’t work in that space.

The Bolton News: Maxine Peake in Betty

“There are some practical things we have had to bear in mind. It is a musical and I like to write quite intricate songs with different voices together but you have to make sure that the audience can see everyone who is singing otherwise that can be confusing. It is technical things like that you have to adjust to but it is a magnificent. environment in which to stage this work.

“There’s something about it which just feels incredibly real as we are the players in the middle of the audience.”

Betty! A Sort of Musical has been a work in progress for several years and you can sense Seiriol’s excitement at finally getting the opportunity to bring it before an audience.

“Musicals do tend to take a bit longer to write than a play,” he said. “You want to get everything just so and there’s a lot of stuff to write. It’s a more intricate machine than a play. Plus we had that minor health scare which began in March 2020 which made everything a little slower.

“But now we’re in that position of bringing life to the production. There’s that point when you write ‘end’ and think you’ve finished the show when you close your laptop. But once you get into rehearsal and you have the performers with you, everything changes and you try to harness their creative energy.

“Being a bit of a control queen there’s a voice in my head shouting ‘stop it, don’t change it’ but that’s not how you produce a good show. By finding things together, that’s how you realise a good piece of art. Then, of course, when you put the show in front of an audience, the whole dynamic changes again.”

Seiriol and Maxine have been in regular contact with Betty Boothroyd about the production.

“We’ve been chatting to her and we wanted to make sure she knew that we weren’t doing a biopic,” he said. “and she’s very excited about it all. She has said that she would love to come and see it if she is able.”

Betty! A Sort of Musical, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, Saturday, December 3 to Saturday, January 14. Details from