Review: Betty Blue Eyes, by Stiles and Drewe, directed by Daniel Buckroyd, New Wolsey Theatre until April 19.
- Credit: Archant
It’s austerity Britain. Money is tight, social climbing is the latest craze and Royal watching is the all-consuming spectator sport. This may sound like the setting for a contemporary drama but it is in fact the backdrop for Betty Blue Eyes, a dazzling new musical based on Alan Bennett’s film A Private Function.
Set at the end of the Second World War, on the eve of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding, Betty Blue Eyes tells the story of chiropodist Gilbert Chilver and his overly anxious wife Joyce. They are also saddled with Joyce’s mother who regards Gilbert with deep suspicion and is sure that he is trying to starve her.
Times are tough and the genteel Joyce is forced to give piano lessons to make ends meet. Gilbert currently cycles to his clients but dreams of having a proper surgery on The Parade but the nastily arrogant Dr Swaby, chairman of the town council, doesn’t believe that chiropody is a proper medical profession and Gilbert Chilver is not the sort of person they want in their town.
But, respectable exteriors are not to be trusted and Dr Swaby and the town council are up to nefarious activities after dark. They are breeding a black-market pig, the eponymous Betty Blue Eyes, to serve up to the great and the good at an exclusive dinner to celebrate The Royal Wedding.
Half way through the show Gilbert, played with great charm by Hadyn Oakley, decides that he’s had enough and in a gloriously comic moment he steals the pig and installs it under the stairs at home. His dotty mother-in-law gets the blame for the resulting smells.
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Meanwhile there is a government meat inspector on the prowl, armed with a paintbrush, ready to taint unofficial meat and take it out of circulation.
It’s a show full of beautifully drawn characters. Joyce and her mother, played by Amy Booth-Steel and Sally Mates, form a particularly enjoyable partnership. And the three-way song Pig, No Pig, with Hadyn Oakley is a total joy.
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The music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe manages that difficult trick of allowing the show to sound contemporary while also anchoring it securely in the late 1940s.
I first saw the show in the West End but it works much better scaled down for the regional theatre stage. Betty, herself, owes a huge debt to the pioneering work of WarHorse, as she is realised by a deceptively simple rod puppet and as a result is much more active than her one-ton West End counterpart.
In fact the whole show works better as a scaled down regional tour. It has much more energy and director Daniel Buckroyd marshals the action with great imagination.
It’s a cracking show and its great that this is another East Anglian show heading out on a national tour.