1. The Source Material
Based on the film, A Private Function - by Alan Bennett - the show has a guaranteed pedigree but the tweaks made to the show to make it a credible musical by Rob Cowen and Daniel Lipman are inspired. I found the musical far more poignant than the film, due to the superb writing.
2. The Performers
Sarah Lancashire is one of the most underrated musical performers I have seen. She manages to imbue hard-nosed Joyce with lots of humanity. Her rendition of the show's best song "Nobody" is showstopping and worth seeing the show for, alone. Reece Shearsmith is also wonderful as the bumbling chiropodist Gilbert. As for Ann Emery - if you have seen her in Billy Elliot - say no more!
3. The Themes
Austerity may still be an annoying buzzword that we have to live with daily, but we go to the theatre to escape. This musical centred around those who are scrimping and scraping is funny, moving and thrilling - as The Chivers attempt to hold a Private Function with a pig on the menu. Can they kill Betty? And will she end up on the table undetected? The fun is finding out.
4. Music and Lyrics
George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are a dynamic double act and they are never better than here. "Magic Fingers", "Lionheart" and "Steal the Pig" highlight the different styles of song on display here. If the CD was a CV, they would get every job in musical theatre going. It's a travesty that the CD was released so close to the closing date, as more people would have bought it direct from the theatre.
5. The Pig
Betty is a remarkable creation, as she is animatronic and reminds you of the Dark Crystal, The Muppets and a time before CGI and distracting effects. I'm not just talking film here as my unpopular opinion is that Ghost is overdone in that dept and did you see Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory? Not only that, Betty becomes very real before your very eyes. When she is being chased and you hear her squeals, I could sense some members of the audience getting quite anxious, as they had bought into the concept and never saw a puppet. "Baa Ram Ewe" - remember that line from the film Babe and how you felt - prepare for that feeling all over again!
To sum up
Cameron Mackintosh has allowed amateur groups to have the rights to the show according to posters on discussion boards. I hope to see the show on tour as I think it will bring home the bacon, particularly here in the North West where we love a bit of grit in a musical. I've got my "magic fingers" crossed.
The Betty Blue Eyes cast recording is available now on First Night Records.
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