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A CurtainUp London London Review
Betty Blue Eyes

I will never have eyes for any other sow. — Mr Allardyce
Betty Blue Eyes
Jack Edwards as Henry Allardyce and Betty (Photo: Charlotte Macmillan)
Betty Blue Eyes is a musical adaptation of Alan Bennett's much loved film a Private Function set in the years after World War Two when Britain was still subject to rationing. With a surprising topicality as we look forward to another royal wedding, this musical is set in 1948 when the present queen as Princess Elizabeth was marrying Prince Philip of Greece. This was austerity Britain as we struggled to pay for the war and there was a shortage of many things including meat. The public concerned that the princess should not have a lavish wedding sent in their coupons to help with the royal wedding plans.

Gilbert Chilvers (Reece Shearsmith), our hero chiropodist is married to socially aspiring Joyce (Sarah Lancashire) who sounds exactly like Dame Maggie Smith. Gilbert dreams of his own shop in the high street, "A Place on the Parade" but he meets resistance from the local doctor, Dr James Swaby played by David Bamber. Gilbert has his own following as he blissfully ministers to the feet of the women in the locality with his "magic fingers".

Alan Bennett is at his best when it comes to observing and parodying the ridiculous in English parochial life. Those who consider themselves socially superior are planning an exclusive local dinner celebration of the royal wedding and are feeding up a pig to be served at the banquet. Betty Blue Eyes is the charming pig, played by an animatronic pig that never really leaves its sty but is wheel-barrowed to the front of the stage. Excluded from the invitations, Gilbert discovers the hiding place of Betty the pig and moves her into his house with smelly results. The mission then is to stop Joyce's confused mother, Mother Dear, (Ann Emery) from spilling the beans to the pig owners and the inspector although the wafting smells of a pig sty almost give the game away.

Adrian Scarborough plays Wormold, the inspector of illegal meat as if he is a cross between Sweeney Todd and one of Hitler's leather coated Nazis, like Herman Goering. His mission is to paint any illegal joints with bright green paint so as to make them unfit for human consumption. He self styles himself "Pigasso. " His song "Painting by Heart" has Sondheim undertones. Wormold is there to ensure "Fair Shares for All" for the housewives of Britain but of course he ends up being a spoilsport!

Tim Hatley has produced a wealth of 1940s design detail so we can seamlessly move from the Chilvers' front room to the shops on The Parade to Sutcliffe's Farm and Metcalfe's and Barraclough's butcher's shops, all being closed down by Wormold. There is a flashback scene to the Primrose Ballroom where Joyce first met Gilbert when the ballroom was hit by a German bomb and Gilbert was the hero of the hour. The lively Jitterbug dancers show plenty of stocking tops and suspenders in one of Stephen Mears' choreographic coups. Three evil women strut a Bob Fosse type shrug to great effect. A fantasy royal visit sees the Duchess of Pork and Sir Francis Bacon coming to the Chilvers' house.

Sarah Lancashire has a very fine singing voice and comes into her own in the fantasy Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' scene "Nobody", "nobody calls us nobody" she asserts, but my favourite number in the show is sung by Betty's number one fan Allardyce (Jack Edwards) and the doting Gilbert to the eyelash fluttering pig with the unusually coloured eyes, "Betty Blue Eyes". George Stiles' music is always accessible and tuneful and Anthony Drewe's lyrics have plenty of piggy puns and world play.

Of course we are all very interested in the fate of the sweetly porcine Betty Blue Eyes and pray she will not end up as dinner on a rich man's plate. The Finale has an operatic like feel as we say goodbye to Austerity Britain. Betty Blues Eyes is a homespun musical with pretty tunes. I'm giving up bacon while Betty Blue Eyes is fresh in the memory.

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Betty Blue Eyes
Book by Ron Coen and Daniel Lipman
Music by George Stiles
Lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Based on the Handmade film A Private Function and original story by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray
Adapted from the screenplay by Alan Bennett
Directed by Richard Eyre

Starring: Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith, Adrian Scarborough, David Bamber, Jack Edwards, Ann Emery, Mark Meadows
With: Ian Conningham, Claire Machin, James Barron, Kirsty Hoiles, Hollie Taylor, Annalisa Rossi, Dan Burton, Rachael Archer, Neil Ditt, Laura Medforth, Gemma Wardle, Christopher Howell, Andy Mace, the voice of Kylie Minogue, Victoria Hay, Howard Jones, Robert Kershaw, Rebecca Louis, Holly Dale Spencer
Choreography by Stephen Mear
Set and Costumes: Tim Hatley
Orchestrations: William David Brohn
Musical Director: Richard Beadle
Dance and Vocal Arrangements: George Stiles
Musical Supervisor: Stephen Brooker
Sound: Mick Potter
Lighting: Neil Austin
Running time: Two hours 35 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0870 950 0935
Booking to 22nd October 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th April 2011 performance at The Novello, Aldwych, London WC2 B 4LD (Tube: Charing Cross)

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture (Austerity Britain) - The Orchestra
  • Fair Shares for All - Joyce, The Company
  • A Place on the Parade - Gilbert, Joyce
  • Magic Fingers - Gilbert, Mrs Roach, Mrs Lester, Mrs Turnbull
  • Magic Fingers (Reprise) - Mrs Metcalf, Gilbert
  • Painting by Heart - Wormwold, The Company
  • Nobody - Joyce, The Company
  • A Private Function - Swaby, Allardyce, Lockwood
  • Betty Blue Eyes - Allardyce, Gilbert
  • The Riot - Wormwold, Noble, The Company
  • Lionheart - Joyce, The Billy Carroll Trio, The Company
  • Steal the Pig - Gilbert, Joyce, Swaby, Allardyce, Lockwood, Wormwold, The Company
Act Two
  • Entr'acte - The Pignap - The Orchestra
  • Another Little Victory - Gilbert, Joyce, The Company
  • Kill the Pig (Reprise) - Joyce
  • It's an Ill Wind - Mrs Tilbrook, Townswomen
  • Pig No Pig - Joyce, Gilbert, Mother Dear, Wormwold, Veronica
  • The Kind of Man I Am - Gilbert
  • Since the War - Swaby, Allardyce, Lockwood, Noble, Wormold
  • Betty Blue Eyes (Reprise) - Gilbert, Allardyce
  • A Private Function (Reprise) - The Company
  • Finale Ultimo - Confessions - The Company
  • Magic Fingers (Reprise) - Gilbert, Joyce
  • Goodbye Austerity Britain - The Company
  • Betty Blue Eyes (Reprise) - Gilbert, Allardyce
  • Jitterbug - The Orchestra
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