Saturday, 26 March 2011

“It’s not just pork, Gilbert; it’s power”

Betty Blue Eyes

Rounding-off a couple of weeks of planned (and unplanned) theatrical visits, yesterday I was offered a free ticket to go and see the brand new musical based upon Alan Bennett's A Private Function , the much anticipated Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre.

Who am I to turn down an offer like that?!

I say much-anticipated, for this Stiles and Drewe (the men behind Mary Poppins, Honk! and the "gay scene musical" Soho Cinders, among others) extravaganza, directed by Sir Richard Eyre, is apparently one of the more expensive (£2.5million!) recent musicals to arrive in the West End, and sees the return of impresario Cameron Mackintosh to the role of "Mr Producer" rather than merely the "money-man".

Entering untried and untested waters is always a bit of a thrill, and true, we did not know quite what to expect. But as far as new musicals go, in my opinion this is one of the best I have seen! With a sterling cast including Corrie's "Raquel" Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith (from The League of Gentlemen), and TV "faces" David Bamber and Adrian Scarborough, and an excellent cast of players and dancers (choreographed by dance wunderkind Stephen Mears), it was a sheer joy to watch from beginning to end.

Set in post-War austerity Britain, with all its queues and rationing and belt-tightening, the only thing people have to look forward to is the forthcoming Royal Wedding of Liz and Phil. This steadfastness in the face of adversity is summed up in the song Fair Shares For All (“Ever since Hitler/Portions are littler”).

Betty Blue Eyes Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith

In this setting, the plot follows mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Mr Shearsmith) and his frustrated and ambitious wife Joyce (Miss Lancashire) as they strive towards A Shop on the Parade - that would give them a place in the stiflingly snobbish Yorkshire society in which they live - where Gilbert's Magic Fingers could have a base.

When Joyce discovers that the eminent citizens are holding a "Private Function" for the wedding, she immediately assumes they will be invited, only to discover from the hideous brat to whom she gives piano lessons that the burghers consider her to be a "nobody". That (of course) is the cue for one of the show's most spectacular numbers (Nobody Calls Me A ) Nobody, in which Miss Lancashire's full vocal talents are brought to the fore as she transforms from prim-and-pinnied housewife to sparklingly glamorous showbiz star in a second (and, just as quickly, back again).

Of course, the opportunity for revenge becomes clear once Gilbert and Joyce discover that the townspeople's private function is to be fed by an illegally-held pig! In this era of "Ministry of Food" rules and regulations, an inspector (brilliantly and camply played by Mr Scarborough) is in town, ferreting out black market dealings and closing down butchers with a habit of selling "under-the-counter" meat. His show-stopping number Painting By Heart, in which he enthuses about the joy he finds in painting the illegal meat he condemns with a green "unfit for human consumption" dye, was probably my favourite number in the show!

Gilbert is tasked by Joyce with stealing the illegal pig from its hideaway, not only to ruin the corrupt councillors' plans for the Royal Wedding function, but also to provide him and Joyce (and her wonderfully dotty mother - "She's 84, you know" - played by Ann Emery) with some actual food for a change, rather than the craftily disguised Spam they usually eat.

Joyce and Gilbert's strangely imbalanced relationship forms a back-story throughout the play, with flashbacks to their meeting in the wreckage of a nightclub in the Blitz (with a stunningly brilliant Lindy Hop routine), and every good deed Gilbert does being rewarded with the totally Maggie Smith (Joyce in the movie version) line "I think sexual intercourse may be in order."

And so the farce ensues as we are introduced to said animatronic pig - the "Betty Blue Eyes" of the title - with her flatulent incontinence ruining Joyce's parquet, and her unusual blue eyes that melt the hearts of the men of the town. Described by Cameron Mackintosh as "the most expensive leading lady I’ve ever had and she's worth every penny,” she is indeed an impressive masterpiece of robotics...

True to all farces, all the characters get involved in the hunt for Betty while trying to hide her from the inspector. The comedy routine with "Mother Dear" (Pig, No Pig) is fab. The ladies of the town get their own excellently-stylised song and dance number It's An Ill Wind when the stench of the pig starts to drift through the streets, and there is even a hilarious musical number (A Piss Stained, Piss Poor Country) performed at the pub urinal!

Joyce, of course, saves the day with a triumphal victory over the burghers, and the finale at the Private Function itself is fabulous!

And Betty herself? She survives to live another day - and at the very end even gets to sing a few bars. The big surprise? The pig's voice is provided by none other than Miss Kylie Minogue herself!!

This is an excellent show, and I wish it every success when it finally launches (it is in previews at the mo) on 6th April.

A must see!

Betty Blue Eyes - the Musical


  1. Miss Desmond - not sure what you mean? Jx

  2. if bennett's involved, it'll surely be good.

  3. Great review - I'm tempted to get tickets for this - Grumpy's work is worse than mine at the moment so I never know when he's fogging to be home though … sounds fascinating x

  4. You and Grumpy will love it! Jx

  5. Got tickets for May 7th :) x

  6. no idea why my word was changed to fogging … think I said goin and it didn't recognise it - figging sounds so rude...

  7. The show has had some great reviews - you have a treat in store! Jx


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