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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Betty Blue Eyes at The Novello Theatre

The critics are having a great time cracking the porcine punchlines for new musical ‘Betty Blue Eyes’, which stars a gorgeous furry animatronic pig. This is Cameron Mackintosh’s first new musical venture in a decade, and with a whopping budget of £2.5 million, I was expecting something magical.

Betty Blue Eyes is set in a Yorkshire town and is based around a plot to “pignap” an animal illegally raised by businessmen who hope to serve her up at a special party to celebrate the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It is a witty adaptation of 1984 film ‘A Private Function,’ a bizarre and unlikely subject for a musical, but one that works surprisingly well. Thanks to talented writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, the original story is kept intact with some hilarious additions.

It is no secret that I appreciate an enthusiastic feel-good production, but even I am a little tired of dreamworld musicals that envelop you in absurd utopian escapism. Betty Blue Eyes delights through a more realistic narrative; an ordinary couple and the struggles of frugal 1940s Britain, amidst ration hell.

The characters are endearing and here we see an impressively strong cast. The lead couple are both naturally brilliant on stage; Sarah Lancashire as social climbing Joyce Chilvers has a superbly strong voice and charming presence, her kind-hearted husband, Gilbert is played by Reece Shearsmith who pulls at the heartstrings with his optimism and has fantastic comic timing.

The villainous meat inspector was rather a caricature and reminded me of the dastardly baddies from children's literature. He is a strange character who has a penchant for painting; every confiscated piece of meat is passionately brushed with bright green paint. Though Adrian Scarborough was suitably vile, I found the role a little odd in comparison with the rest of the cast, and it occasionally broke my belief in the situation.

The adorable pig, Betty, is cooed at on every entrance, shipped from Australia specially, and with three understudies, she is quite the diva, flashing beautiful blue eyes and fluttering her eyelashes at every opportunity. Kylie Minogue’s voice has a fleeting role at the curtain call, though apparently it is not Miss Minogue that provides the creature’s funny farting and burping noises!

The music and movement is exceptional. Songs composed by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe complement the narrative perfectly, catchy tunes with sharp funny lyrics and just the right sprinkling of sentiment. Highlights are ‘Magic Fingers’ and ‘Nobody,’ a showbiz number sung by Mrs Chilvers who dreams of higher social status. Stephen Mears’ choreography is snappy, which is particularly evident towards the end of the show when the chorus take part in a spectacularly complex routine.

It is not often a new musical succeeds; shows like Wicked are certainly in the minority... but with our own royal wedding just around the corner hopefully the British public will go and see Betty Blue Eyes even if just for the sake of a happy coincidence.

Betty Blue Eyes continues until 22 October, book here.

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