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"I will never have eyes for any other pig..."
on 3 October 2011
A wonderful, joyous show from start to finish -'Betty Blue Eyes' had an outstanding critical reception when it opened at the Novello Theatre in April. Sadly & dispiritingly it didn't find a big enough audience to keep it in the West End for a long & successful run, which it truly deserved.
Therefore, this original London cast recording has particular resonance for those lucky enough to have seen the show - to help keep the memory of a wonderful show & an utterly brilliant cast. And for those who didn't manage to see it, the recording perfectly captures this witty, original, character lead, beguiling musical comedy in all its glory.
`Betty' is set in an Austerity Britain of 1947. An unlicensed pig is secretly being raised to be fed to an elite gathering of local council officials & their snobbish cohorts at a private function to mark the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth & Prince Philip. Based on Alan Bennett's `A Private Function', it centres on the married couple of chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his socially ambitious wife Joyce - & their dreams, hopes and aspirations - in a post-war Britain still shaped by class distinction & snobbery.
`Betty Blue Eyes' poignancy & depth of feeling comes from a commitment to the importance of character at the heart of the show. The show is also suffused with a keen sense of the effects of rationing, deprivation, people's suffering & loss and the terrible times endured on the Home Front during the Second World War.
The very talented creative team behind `Betty' - the writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman & its composer and lyricist, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe - have taken the premise of `A Private Function' & created a show which improves on the original film - an achievement in itself when it comes to theatrical adaptations of films.
Songs as touching as `Magic Fingers' & `The Kind of Man I Am' (movingly and beautifully performed by Reece Shearsmith) & scenes such as the wartime dance at the Primrose Ballroom & Gilbert & Joyce's moving reconciliation at the end (which did not happen in the film) are a measure of how 'Betty Blue Eyes' took its source material and became something wonderful & uniquely brilliant in and of itself.
The magnificent score is almost an embarrassment of riches. I can't remember hearing so many great songs in one show. Character lead songs such as the brilliant `Painting by Heart' & the already modern classic showstopper `Nobody' (superbly sung by Sarah Lancashire) are complimented by the aforementioned beautifully melodic 'Magic Fingers' & touching `The Kind of Man I Am'.
Then there are the songs which are a new zenith in musical comedy - `Another Little Victory' & `Pig No Pig'. `Pig No Pig' is in itself a beautifully crafted comedic farce set to music. It was a scene enacted to perfection on stage by Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith and Ann Emery, whose pitch perfect timing & physical skill were a joy to watch. And there has never been a more infectious and charmingly beguiling title song as `Betty Blue Eyes', sung in the show to its porcine leading lady.
I can't praise the cast of `Betty Blue Eyes' highly enough. It was great to have very good actors playing the parts. They helped add so much to their roles & really brought the residents of Shepardsford to life.
Its why `Betty' should be seen as a musical comedy or comedy with music rather than a straightforward musical. The cast was one of actors who can sing rather than vice versa & they were an exceptional cast of actors.
Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith made the roles of Joyce and Gilbert Chilvers completely their own. They played their parts to perfection - its impossible to imagine anyone as the Chilvers.
The class of actors in the supporting roles included Adrian Scarborough, David Bamber, Ann Emery, Mark Meadows & Jack Edwards. The whole company was made up of talented performers - Claire Machin, Dan Burton, Ian Conningham, Chris Howell, Andy Mace & Gemma Wardle to name but few.
'Betty Blue Eyes' will surely be remembered and rewarded during the theatrical awards season. I can think of no show more deserving of the Olivier `Best New Musical' with Sarah and Reece as Best Actress and Actor in a Musical.
Its depressing that a show as good as this didn't reside in the West End for a long time. A seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of safe, bland juke box musicals is a sad reflection on public taste.
Long live `Betty Blue Eyes' - "When I look into your two eyes, I see the heart and soul of God's creation".