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Back to the Forties Betty Blue Eyes The Musical

Magic 105.4
April 14, 2011

Back to the Forties


By Paul Phear for Magic 105.4

If I was asked to write a song about a post war chiropodist called Gilbert it'd probably go straight to the top of the world's worst song chart. However, faced with this unique challenge George Stiles (tunes) and Anthony Drewe (words) have created a piece of musical genius with their song Magic Fingers, from the new Cameron Mackintosh produced musical Betty Blue Eyes. Not just a beautiful melody, it touches every point on the compass of human emotion, from tragedy to comedy, even a little eroticism. And (musical theatre appreciation, lesson one) it establishes both character and situation. Top marks. There are several other gems in their score. For example, Nobody would be a show-stopper in most musicals, and here it's belted out by Sarah Lancashire in a musical master-class performance. I'm glad to report that this is the show that firmly places Stiles and Drewe amongst the leading musical songwriters of this or anytime.

So music and songs are great, what about the rest? The plot will be familiar if you've seen the Alan Bennett film A Private Function. The more 'well to do' residents of a small Yorkshire town are planning a celebration party for princess Elizabeth's 1947 wedding and are rearing a roasting pig away from the prying eyes of the government meat inspector and the other townsfolk. I think the pig is named Betty in honour of our present Queen, but I hope there were no pigs on the spit last Friday that were called Kate. Off with their heads if there were.

The era after the war of lost husbands, ration books, hard graft and town halls full of wild Lindy Hopping dancers is evocatively recreated, with breathtaking dancing and Cameron Mackintosh's trademark ensemble scenes. Gilbert is sweetly played by League of Gentleman's Reece Shearsmith, and he gives real depth to this sensitive man. His mother in law is Ann Emery (until recently Billy Elliot's gran) in another role that benefits from her brilliant comic timing.

There's also an outstanding West End debut from Betty herself, who I'm sure will be collecting the Olivier award for best performance by a singing porker next year. There were ooh's and aah's from all over the Novello theatre when she appeared on stage. If there hadn't been so much publicity about this animatronic oinker I'm sure you'd believe she was real.. that is until she starts reacting to her fellow (human) performers. Even Barbara Woodhouse couldn't train an animal that well. One for the teenagers there.

Betty may be full of wires and motors, but this lovable new musical comedy has a beating heart, an English soul and is as welcome as a bacon sandwich after a big night out. Highly recommended for all ages, it can only be five oinks!

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