The Theatreguide.London Review
Betty Blue Eyes
Novello Theatre 2011
Betty Blue Eyes is a lot of fun, if you take and appreciate it for what it is.
It's a nice brassy old-fashioned Broadway-style musical, the kind we're told they don't make anymore.
From book to music to staging, you sense what is surely a conscious and deliberate effort not to advance the art form an inch, but just to provide the proverbial Good Night Out. And on that unsurprising, undemanding comfort-food level, it's a complete success.
Based on the 1985 film A Private Function, written by Alan Bennett, it tells the story of a Yorkshire chiropodist and his social-climbing wife in the royal wedding year of 1947.
Snubbed by the village aristocracy, they take revenge by stealing the pig the toffs were illegally raising for a royal wedding feast, only to run afoul of the rationing authorities themselves.
Book adaptors Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman tell the tale with efficiency and humour, allowing appropriate spots for the songs by George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), which are amiable but mainly forgettable.
The title song has a sweet melody, if you overlook the fact that it's a love song to a pig, and the big brassy number, 'Nobody', has real Broadway razzmatazz energy (and more than a passing resemblance to Kander and Ebb's finale to Chicago).
Richard Eyre directs the plot scenes fluidly and acknowledges the retro flavour of the show by staging every song with the performers stepping away from each other, facing front, planting their feet apart and blasting at us in full Ethel Merman mode.
Choreographer Stephen Mear's biggest dance number is a flashback Lindy Hop, complete with big band and Andrews Sisters clones, though elsewhere he shows some wit by inserting Their Royal Highnesses into one number, alluding to Les Miserables in another, and quoting Michael Jackson (about forty years too early) in yet another.
Reece Shearsmith plays the mousy hero with appropriately modest charm, though the performer, like the character, is repeatedly overpowered by his wife, as Sarah Lancashire takes no prisoners with 'Nobody' and generally dominates every other number she's in.
Ann Emery is droll as the dotty mother-in-law and Adrian Scarborough funny as the mock-villain rationing enforcer, while Jack Edwards gets to sing the title song with a straight face. Oh, and the robot pig is very sweet.
This musical isn't just set in 1947. Stylistically, it's a contender for the best musical of 1947. And that's not really a criticism.
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