Betty Blue Eyes is a gentle old-fashioned, feel good British musical comedy, that for the most part steps up to the plate and brings home the bacon.
Betty Blue Eyes is based on the popular Alan Bennett scripted and Malcolm Mowbray directed 1984 comedy film A Private Function. Like the film, the musical is set in 1947, and along with high unemployment and the coldest winter for decades, food rationing in Britain is still being enforced on the already wearied population of Attlee’s Britain.
Quality meat is especially in short supply, and it doesn’t help matters that the food Inspector Wormold, an fanatical destroyer of illicit meat, keeps arresting the local butchers. The only bright spark on the horizon is the impending marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
The egalitarian message of ‘fare shares for all’ is being vaunted by the government, and the general populous is expected make do with Spam. Secretly however an adorable pig called Betty, is being illegally reared to ensure that the local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding with a lavish banquet. One of the town leaders justifies the private function saying: ‘it’s not about steak, it’s about status.’
The exclusive banquet is upended when a seemingly harmless chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers, emboldened by his social climbing wife Joyce, steals the pig, and hides it in his house with messy and malodorous consequences.
Of course, it is too easy watching the show to argue that over time very little changes with human nature, and make modern day comparisons to the current horse meat and rotten pork scandal, the selfish elite partying on forbidden treats, post pandemic trauma, the cost of living crisis, and the forthcoming street parties for the King’s coronation as the only major alleviation from all this.
However, Betty Blue Eyes offers a decidedly more light-hearted take on life, and it is meant to be enjoyed rather than being viewed as a heavy tome for social analysis.
Having previously written Honk! a musical about an ugly duckling, George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics) seem equally at home with composing porcine themed songs that shamelessly deliver lyrics like: “these are rash times, so we need to think rasher.”
Betty Blue Eyes has a pleasingly mellifluous score, and notable numbers include the evocative ‘Magic Fingers‘, and the reflective ‘The Kind of Man I Am.’
Under Sasha Regan’s sometimes plodding direction some of Bennet’s humour misses its mark, and this is especially apparent in some of the dialogue scenes which have a tendency of falling flat due to a lack of specific comedy timing and pacing.
Sam Kipling is perfectly cast as the meek but chirpy chiropodist, while Amelia Atherton as his aspiring wife Joyce steals the show with a feisty delivery of the number ‘Nobody.’
Josh Perry as Henry Allardyce also give a lovely dewy-eyed performance as the accountant who falls in love with the porcine heroine.
The cast work together well as an ensemble and really showcase their singing and dancing talents with the poignant but lively company number ‘Lionheart,’ which is tightly choreographed by Kasper Cornish.
Betty Blue Eyes is at The Union Theatre until 22nd April 2023