Blue Eyes and a great bit of crackling

Haydn Oakley as Gilbert Chilvers on his way to steal the pig in the musical Betty Blue Eyes which th

Haydn Oakley as Gilbert Chilvers on his way to steal the pig in the musical Betty Blue Eyes which the Colchester Mercury is sending on tour round the country. - Credit: Archant

Betty Blue Eyes, music by George Stiles, lyrics by Anthony Drewe, book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman at Mercury Theatre, Colchester until April 5

Hadyn Oakley and Amy Booth-Steel as Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers in Betty Blue Eyes, the musical of A

Hadyn Oakley and Amy Booth-Steel as Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers in Betty Blue Eyes, the musical of A Private Function, at the Colchester Mercury. - Credit: Archant

She’s as sweet a bit of crackling as you’d see on a day’s march, is Betty Blue Eyes and it is small wonder that everybody falls for her – well, maybe not everybody, but enough to save her bacon.

The cast of Betty Blue Eyes

The cast of Betty Blue Eyes - Credit: Archant

You see, Betty is a pig and this story is set just after the Second World War when food was on ration and people were dying to get their teeth into a decent bit of meat without much success. The black market thrived and everybody, it seems, from the great and the good to the lowliest worker, was on the hi-diddle-diddle to a greater or lesser degree.

Being a pig tends not to be a job with much of a future at any time, but in 1947 a fat little porker was gold dust and Betty has been bought with a back-hander to provide a roast dinner for the worthies of a small northern town to celebrate the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

Everybody wants to be there, partly, of course, for the meal, but there’s also the cachet, the snob value of the invitation, and among those hoping to make the grade is chiropodist Gilbert Chilver and his missis Joyce. He is a arranging to take over premises on the town’s posh parade and fancies his chances.


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But the chairman of the council, the nastily arrogant Dr Swaby and his snooty lickspittle cohorts, turn him down, so Gilbert kidnaps Betty, hides her in his house and it produces some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen on stage for a long time.

Based on the movie, A Private Function, this cleverly scaled down version of the Cameron Mackintosh West End show, is superbly directed by the Mercury’s Daniel Buckroyd and it is going out on a tour that includes the Ipswich New Wolsey. It’s full of great songs, all very well sung and it careers along like a runaway train.

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And then there’s Betty. Nobody’s going to eat her because she’s gorgeous. Okay, she’s not a real pig but she’s still lovely with those blue eyes and the way she looks at you. She understands every word you say and she’s brilliantly operated by land girl puppeteer Loren Logan.

It’s a show with everything, good music, clever lyrics, some very good dancing and it bubbles with laughter all the way through as we are carried back to post-war austerity England with a touch as deft as any Ealing comedy.

Hadyn Oakley and Amy Booth-Steel are the Chilvers and both are first class, especially good in the clever number Pig, No Pig! with Joyce’s hilarious mother (Sally Mates). The title song Betty Blue Eyes is another goody in a very tuneful score.

There’s a cracking cast of nearly 20, all good movers, good singers often involved in complicated harmonies - as well as, some of them, playing instruments as part of the excellent backing band that gives this great night out a lot of oomph.

DAVID HENSHALL

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