I went to see Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre London this week and what a treat it was!
This is Cameron Mackintosh’s first original production for ten years and he comments that Betty Blue Eyes is “one of the best things that I have ever done”, which is high praise indeed. You may well wish to go and see the show and judge for yourself. The musical is based on the 1984 film “A Private Function” written by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray and starring Michael Palin and Maggie Smith.
The plot is broadly as follows:
In a small Yorkshire community in 1947 the citizens continue to endure food rationing in post-war Britain. A few pompous dignitaries in the town want to hold a party to celebrate the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip and illegally decide to raise a pig for the occasion. However, the pig gets stolen by Gilbert Chilvers (Reece Shearsmith), who was encouraged to do so by his wife Joyce (Sarah Lancashire). Food Inspector Wormwold (Adrian Scarborough) is however, determined to stop activities circumventing the food rationing.
Ring any bells? Is it 2011? Britain has just had the worst winter weather on record, the country is in the grip of austerity measures and a Royal wedding is about to take place; No it is 1947! The start of the adaptation of the musical from the film began in 2005 when two American executive producers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, were working together on a television series filming in Toronto. With the musical taking more than five years to write it is somewhat of a coincidence that the similarities are there with a particular bygone year.
It is fair to say that the average age of the audience attending this musical is likely to be higher than many other West End productions, but that should not detract from making this a fun musical to attend for all ages. I would however suggest that before you go you should read the synopsis that is written about the play as it is a very good guideline as to what to expect. It basically “does what it says on the tin”.
The underlying theme of the musical is that there should be “fair shares for all”, in a time when there are food shortages and rationing in a post-war Britain that may have won the war, but is still finding plenty of conflicts, but now at home.
The star of the musical is of course Betty Blue Eyes the animatronicpig who may well capture the heart of even the most ardent bacon connoisseur in the audience. She is being raised illegally by local businessmen for a party to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding but is ‘pig-knapped’ by Gilbert, and without wishing to spoil the story line, so the tale unfolds.
The musical is largely centred around chiropodist Gilbert (Reece Shearsmith), Joyce (Sarah Lancashire), Mother Dear (Anne Emery) and of course Betty Blue Eyes.
Sarah Lancashire is outstanding in her role as a wife who desperately wants to climb the social ladder in this local community where everyone should know their place. Not the first time that Sarah has appeared on stage with an ‘animal’, as she previously played in Little Shop of Horrors alongside a giant man-eating plant. At least Betty Blue Eyes didn’t try to eat them!
Reece Shearsmith plays the role of Gilbert extremely well, as a husband who always does his best particularly in trying to please his wife. His heart is in the right place, even with some disrespectful (but humorous) asides towards Mother Dear, who is played by former Billy Elliot grandmother Ann Emery, who is of course fantastic.
The other main characters are strongly performed by a marvellous cast of great British actors including; Ian Conningham (Sergeant Noble), David Bamber (Dr James Swaby), Jack Edwards (Henry Allardyce), Mark Meadows (Francis Lockwood) and Adrian Scarborough (Inspector Wormold).
An added bonus is a brief cameo ‘voice-role’ by Kylie Minogue at the end of the show, as Betty Blue Eyes sings.
A mention should be made for the orchestra who, together with the cast, produce a brilliant new musical which provides some superbly timed moments. A very well done to all!
The rest of the cast are:
Ensemble: Rachael Archer, Victoria Hay, Claire Machin, James Barron, Kirsty Hoiles, Laura Medforth, Dan Burton, Chris Howell, Annalisa Rossi, Holly Dale-Spencer, Howard Jones, Hollie Taylor, Neil Ditt, Robert Kershaw, Gemma Wardle, Rebecca Louis, Andy Mace
Creative Team: Cameron Mackintosh (Producer), George Stiles (Music), Anthony Drewe (Lyrics), Book (Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman), William David Brohn (Orchestration), Richard Eyre (Director), Tim Hatley (Design), Neil Austin (Lighting), Stephen Mear (Musical Staging), Mick Potter (Sound), Stephen Brooker (Musical Supervisior), Ricahrd Beadle (Musical Director), Adrian Sarple, (Associate Director), Geoff Garratt (Associate Choreographer)
Content updated 7th October 2014