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This superb production sizzles Betty Blue Eyes The Musical

Mail On Sunday
April 14, 2011

This superb production sizzles


By Georgina Brown for Mail On Sunday

Austerity Britain: spring follows the worst winter in decades, everyone's tightening their belts and the council is furiously recycling household waste. But the royal wedding is perking up the nation and there are parties planned across the county.

Sound familiar? But it’s 1947 and the bride and groom are Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.  This is the background to Betty blue eyes, an endearingly enjoyable musical comedy about rationing and rashers served with lashings of (apple) sauce.

Betty Blue eyes is adapted for Alan Bennett’s much loved film A Private Function in which Maggie Smith played social climbing Joyce and Michael Palin her compliant chiropodist husband Gilbert, who together steal a black market pig being fatten for a banquet for the village top brass.

Richard Eyres superb production sizzles like a traditional Sunday roast and has a charm of it’s own. Even thought the book is the witty work of two Americans, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, It’s a very British Musical comedy, of eeh-by-gum Yorkshire, crushing snobbery and nasty (and even Nazi) neighbours.

But it is George stiles score of proper period tunes (including an oom-pah-pah number worthy of Lionel Bart) that makes the show sing.

Peoples hopes, dreams and desires burst out in song and dance, like bubbles in a comic strip. And Stephen Mears choreography – he brings on a force of bobbing Bobbies, a jive night at the primrose ballroom and much more – makes it swing.

There are also three shining stars. Sarah Lancashire (best know for pulling pints at the Rovers Return) is magnificent as Joyce, a piano teacher and the Lady Macbeth of the locality (she tells Gilbert to ‘screw his courage to the sticking point’ and ‘dare do all that may become a man’), a nobody who fervently dreams of being somebody.

In one magic moment, Joyce, in her pinny, is eclipsed by an ostrich feather fan brought into her kitchen by two dancing girls and a couple of swells in top hats and tails until, hey presto she’s reappears as she and we want her to be, a glamorous diva in a sparkly gown slashed to the thigh.

Reece Shearsmith is perfect as the meek, moon-faced Gilbert, who saves soles with his Magic fingers (a terrific song) and puts a spring in the step as well as a song in the hearts of the local wives, until he is possessed with a fervour to save Betty the pig from being turned into chops.

His affection is totally understandable because Betty (an animatronic creation) bats her eyelids like Marilyn Monroe, sings like Kylie and doesn’t put a trotter wrong.

This little piggy will go to market and impresario Cameron Macintosh will be deservedly squealing with delight all the way home. As was I.

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