In 2011, Cameron Mackintosh produced Betty Blue Eyes, a musical adaptation of Alan Bennett's film A Private Function. It was critically acclaimed, but after poor sales the show closed. Now though it's getting a second chance in this new touring production. It's certainly a fun night out, though sadly a shadow of its former self.
The setting is 1947 and Austerity Britain. The war may be over but the people of Shephardsford are still living with meat rationing. Against this background of scarcity, the musical introduces Gilbert Chilvers, played by a charming Haydn Oakley, a chiropodist who dreams of having his own surgery on the town's parade.
However, Gilbert and his wife Joyce, played by a gutsy Amy Booth-Steele, are looked down upon with disdain by the town's upper strata. They are not invited to a private function celebrating the marriage of Princess Elizabeth. They decide to get revenge by stealing an "illegal" pig, Betty, whom the council was keeping under wraps for the celebratory lunch.
The musical is certainly a quaint one, yet it never really elevates itself. It is a one hour and thirty minute film stretched into a two and a half hour musical, with tired jokes and an altered ending that feels contrived.
Things do get interesting when Tobias Beer appears as the evil meat inspector, hunting down any illegal meat and painting it green. Obsessively singing "Upholding the Law", Tobias is deliciously villainous. There's also a poignant moment during "Lionheart", when we learn how Joyce met Gilbert during the Blitz.
It doesn't help that these jolly songs are impeded by this small production. For a downscaled touring production, the set of Shephardsford works well portraying the drabness of post war Britain, but on the other hand the set does not reflect the colourful music. The four-piece band do an excellent job, however for a comedy musical like this I feel that the music was more suited to the original full-blown version.
And what about the pig that this musical is named after? While the original had a full-sized animatronic, this production has a puppet. That's fine, if it looks good. Instead, it looks like someone has patched a few spare pieces of pink cloth together. It looks awful.
The show is supported by a fantastic cast, and as a small touring production it is enjoyable night out. However, Betty Blue Eyes feels like a big, flashy musical that has been diminished by this new production, which only serves to draw attention to the flaws in the story.
- David Jobson