Theatre Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello Theatre, London

Betty Blue Eyes
Novello Theatre

Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Lancashire, Ann Emery. Photo by Michael Le Poer Trench
New musical Betty Blue Eyes has been six years in the making but has finally burst onto the London stage in a tuneful and joyful production. It has an impressive pedigree, not least from being based on the hit 1984 film A Private Function starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin as a couple who get drawn into politics and intrigue over a pig at a time of rationing in post-war Britain.

The music and lyrics are by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, leading lights in modern British musical theatre, from Honk! and Just So to new material for Mary Poppins. Their richly orchestrated songs for Betty Blue Eyes are catchy and enjoyable though not trying to break the traditional musical mould. Highlights include Magic Fingers which is both funny and moving and probably the first time that chiropody has been a subject for a song.
The book retains much of the northern humour of Alan Bennett’s original script, reinvented by Americans Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, best known as the writers and creators of the American version of TV series Queer As Folk. They bring an added campness to the story that at times veers into pantomime, especially in the villainous meat inspector Wormwold who, in the skilful comic hands of Adrian Scarborough, makes you want to boo each time he comes on stage.

Reece Shearsmith is perfect as the put-upon but ambitious chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers while Sarah Lancashire confirms her skills as both a comic actor and a singer as his social-climbing wife Joyce. With actors of the calibre of David Bamber in supporting roles and the involvement of director Richard Eyre and producer Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is an entertaining and engaging show with plenty of well-timed comedy and songs to make you smile. Throw in an animatronic pig with the voice of Kylie Minogue, and it is a delightful new musical that is destined to be around for a while.

Amateur Stage magazine

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