Mrs Beeton Says, BOVTS at the Redgrave Theatre, Bristol

THERE’S the world premiere of a musical play on at the Red­grave Theatre in Bristol until 13th December, performed by students at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

With music and lyrics by Eamonn O’Dwyer and words by Helen Watts, it reunites the team behind Dorset Corset’s Frankenstein in 2010, a collaboration that continued in the highly-praised Legend of Sleepy Hollow, seen in London in August 2018.

Those of a certain age will probably have seen a bulky battered tome in the kitchen, relied on by granny and referred to as “my Mrs Beeton.”  And, like the women in the show, imagined that the writer was a middle-aged, comfortably built educated woman.

Not so. Isabella Beeton was only 28 when she died,  by which time she had saved her husband’s publishing business from ruin, only to see him wreck it again with ill-advised projects and foolish spending.

This cleverly constructed play introduced its audience to women from all walks of life, struggling with the realities of a married life for which their education had included no preparation. Isabella, passionately in love with Sam Beeton as well as formidably organised, was only 23 when she spotted a gap in the publishing market and began the first edition of her essential book. Her continuing legacy as a household name was cruelly juxtaposed with a life cut short by syphilis.

Bronia Housman has designed a clever set whose focus is an ornate iron bridge, not only allowing all the movement that a musical must have but exemplifying the industrial (and social) revolution of the time. Eight BOVTS students bring 20 characters to vibrant life in 145 minutes of tuneful music, incisive lyrics and fine storytelling.

Beshlie Thorp leads the company as Mrs B, with Jonathan Oldfield as Sam, and Shane David-Joseph, Anna-Kate Golding, Lawrence Haynes, Karla Kaucky, Eva O’Hara and Heidi Parsons, each creating memorable and recognisable characters from the life of the woman whose work revolutionised cookery and household management, and without whom Bake Off might never have happened!

The witty, edgy score, played by the onstage trio of MD Pamela Rudge, with Wendhy Sierra and Christine Johnstone, highlights the dilemma of the women, the fear of the men and the sweeping changes afoot. Specially memorable are This is How We Rise and the title song, as well as the call to buy a book.

Mrs Beeton Says certainly des­er­ves to follow in the footsteps of another end-of-term Bristol show, Salad Days, and become part of the regular repertoire. This premiere company should be very proud of both its production by Paul Clarkson and its performances.


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