The lady in front of us was baffled by the pay terminal in the multi-storey. Not surprising, really, since she’d clearly been teleported from the 40’s – sensible brogues, tweed skirt, hair net …
She was on her way, via the Balkerne Gate, to the Mercury to watch the Blonde Bombshells of 1943.
The original Bombshells film had Judi Dench struggling to arrange a reunion for the wartime girl band she’d joined as a girl of 15.
The stage spin-off, almost a tribute show, has the band recruiting three new girls, replacing members lost to the depredations of GIs. Alan Plater, who penned both scripts, was inspired in turn by the all-female orchestras epitomised by Ivy Benson. The live version has been on the road since 2006, including a tour of duty in the Far East.
The format is simple. Betty [Charlotte Armer] sits in a grim rehearsal room. Vaguely feminist/filthy chit-chat is exchanged with other members of the band as they drift in. The three novices – Miranda the upper-class tart [a brilliantly dim Rosie Jenkins] Liz the innocent schoolgirl [a gawky Laura Staveley] and least likely by most amusing, Lily the nun. From a liberal order which embraces the Melody Maker and the cheeky innuendo of George Formby.
They do their audition pieces, and are magically melded in a moment into the Valentino Sisters [Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree]. Then, in a tune-filled climax, the BBC wireless show broadcast live from somewhere in England [ alright, Hull ]. As in the tv film, the other plot line is Some Like It Hot draft-dodging drummer [Matthew Ganley] who is shamed into joining the colours [Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye].
The show’s secret, and what made this such an enjoyable evening, is the comedy skills and consummate musicianship of the eight actors, and of course the powerfully nostalgic tunes. Number Fifteen on your News Chronicle song sheet ...