Review – 5***** Betty Blue Eyes – Union Theatre

One of the great comedy films of the 80s is transformed as a high stepping musical with great songs and sparkling dialogue.

A Private Function was a rare bird in the film world even when it was released in 1984. Financed with British money via George Harrison’s Handmade Films; co-written by the incomparable Alan Bennett and starring an all British cast it was a film conceived and produced entirely on these shores. Post war Britain on the eve of the royal wedding in 1947 is the backdrop to this delightful tale. An ambitious chiropodist, bungling town hall officials and a blue eyed pig are hardly perfect ingredients for a musical, but Betty Blue Eyes pulls it off so easily you wouldn’t think the film came first.

It’s November 1947 and Britain is gripped by wedding fever as Princess Elizabeth is set to marry Philip Mountbatten. Chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Sam Kipling) is desparate to make an impression in an earthy northern town. His wife Joyce (Amelia Atherton) is similarly anxious to climb the social ladder and make a name for herself; particularly when she learns of a private function to celebrate the royal wedding. Just like the food supply invitations are strictly rationed. But Joyce is determined to swing an invite and launches a charm offensive with council officials led by Dr Swaby (Stuart Simons).

Haela Walshe

Betty Blue Eyes is a gloriously bright and clever musical that benefits from strong source material. The book strives to create a standalone narrative for the stage, but still bears the hallmarks of an Alan Bennett creation. The quirkiness of the British character comes to the fore and some genuinely funny moments feel almost Pythonesque in their delivery. The songs are intelligent and enhance rather than detract from the plot. ‘Fair shares for all’ and ‘Magic Fingers’ are the most rousing numbers mingling in a satisfying score. What’s remarkable about this production is the equality given to the players. Each member of the 19 strong cast has dialogue or at least one line from a song to sing. It’s a rare sight in any musical, and the producers should be commended giving the whole ensemble a chance to shine.

A naturally big show sits perfectly in the small and intimate confines of the Union Theatre. There are so many smart touches that fuse the austerity of post-war Britain with the musicality of theatre. For example, the food queue quickly turns into a chorus line and draws the audience in with an infectious spontaneity. Betty Blue Eyes has been away from the London stage for far too long – it’s good to have it back.

Writers: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Music & Lyrics); Ron Cowne and Daniel Lipman (Book), based on the screenplay by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray.

Director/Producer: Sasha Regan

Review by: Brian Penn

Published by Playhouse Pickings

Theatre blog run by Rhiannon; a civil servant, D&D player, sci fi fan, immersive theatre lover and gin enthusiast

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