Captivating Betty Blue Eyes!
“When you are married to a butcher, you are just another cut of meat.”
First seen at the Novello in 2011, starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith and a blue eyed pig, was Stiles and Drewe’s delightful musical take on Alan Bennett’s film of A Private Function. It is about a celebration meal for the royal wedding in 1947 of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten. Betty Blue Eyes is the illicit pig being fattened for a local feast in the fictional Shepardsford, Yorkshire. The public sent in their meat rationing coupons so that the royal couple could enjoy their wedding breakfast as the royals were subject to the same rationing as the British people.
Sasha Regan has brought the musical Betty Blue Eyes to Southwark’s The Union Theatre just in time for the street parties planned for the Coronation of Charles III in May. The story centres on the social aspirations of Joyce Chilvers (Amelia Atherton) who is married to chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Sam Kipling). Gilbert conducts his businees on a bicycle delivering foot massages and other unspeakably disgusting forms of foot care, like corn trimming, verruca excising and toe fungus treatment. The song “Magic Fingers” has superb lyrics on the podiatry theme which may make you wince, unless of course you have a foot fetish. Note the ladies have their foot massage through their flesh coloured stockings!
The 1940s women queue politely at the butchers but most will only get Spam. The costumes and hats, knitted waistcoats and detailed suits by designer Reuben Speed are superbly in period and shown off in full in the group choreography by Kasper Cornish. The post war austerity era is reimagined and the voice of the then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee is heard on the radio talking about “Fair Shares for All”.
Joyce Chilvers is socially aspirational and encourages her husband to take a surgery on The Parade through estate agent Frances Lockwood (Tom Holt) but Lockwood is a member of the trio who are planning the exclusive banquet. These three are led by Dr Swaby (Stuart Simons) who is loth to see the chiropodist set up next to his premises on The Parade. The third member of the three is accountant Henry Allardyce (Josh Perry) who has a very soft spot for the porcine Betty.
The villain of the piece, besides Dr Swaby, is the government meat inspector, Mr Wormold (David Pendlebury) clad in a head to toe leather coat, like a Gestapo officer, who paints any illicit meat green. What a dreadful waste! Wormold spies, gleaning information from the “latrine in the pub”. Mrs Chilvers’ confused elderly mother, Mother Dear (Jayne Ashley) is coached in subterfuge in the song “Pig, No Pig”.
Theatrevibe spotted Amelia Atherton’s promise and outstanding vocals at the Garden Theatre at the Eagle in Next Thing You Know and of course Musical Director Aaron Clingham at the same venue in many productions including the fabulous Fanny and Stella. Sam Kipling as Gilbert is simply adorable. I loved the way the cast are allowed to look ordinary although of course their acting, singing and dancing are anything but.
Without spoiling the ending Betty Blue Eyes celebrates the lovely pig (no bacon sandwiches for me anytime soon!) and teaches Joyce to value her husband’s sterling qualities. There is a scene in a dance hall with the joyous Jitterbug dance and tunes with a jazzy feel. There is a spectacular staging of the bombing during the war. I suppose we can be relieved that we don’t yet have smelly theatre when Betty noisily releases her trapped wind. There are terrifyingly dark moments in “Kill the Pig”.
This is a really inventive production from the Union and By the Sea Productions, great music, super acting and top notch singing, fun choreography, quirky comedy and heartfelt moments to add to the charm. Don’t miss sweet Betty upholstered in Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston, with her companion Georgia Boothman. What a wonderful show for these first time actor singers dancers in the cast to be able to put Betty Blue Eyes on their cvs!
For sheer enjoyment at a bargain price, Theatrevibe, the site that doesn’t do stars, awards Betty Blue Eyes five shining sapphire stars.
Overture Goodbye Austerity Britain
Fair Shares for All
A Place on the Parade
Magic Fingers (Reprise)
Upholding the Law
Nobody Part One
Nobody Part Two
A Private Function
Betty Blue Eyes
There’ll No Lease
Steal the Pig
Another Little Victory
Steal the Pig (Reprise)
It’s an Ill Wind
Pig No Pig
The Kind of Man I Am
Since the War
Betty Blue Eyes/Steal the Pig (Reprise)
Fair Shares/A Private Function (Reprise)
Finale Ultimo – Confessions
Magic Fingers (Reprise)
Goodbye Austerity Britain
Betty Blue Eyes (Reprise)
Betty Blue Eyes
Book by Ron Cowne and Daniel Lipman
Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Choreographed by Kasper Cornish
Directed by Sasha Regan
Emma Jane Fearnley
Director: Sasha Regan
Choreographer: Kasper Cornish
Musical Director: Aaron Clingham
Lighting Designer: Ben Cracknell
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Booking until 22nd April 2023
Old Union Arches
229 Union Street
LONDON SE1 0LR
Website: union theatre.biz
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Union Theatre
on 4th April 2023