It’s not often that an animatronic pig voiced by Kylie Minogue takes centre stage in a West End musical, but this very situation has come to pass in Betty Blue Eyes, which opened at the Novello Theatre last night (13 April 2011, previews from 19 March).

Adapted from the Alan Bennett-scripted comedy film A Private Function, the show, which is produced by Cameron Mackintosh, features a book by Americans Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

The action is set in a Yorkshire village after the Second World War, where rationing presents a challenge for the locals who want to celebrate a Royal wedding in style by slaughtering an illegally raised pig for the event. Chaos ensues when the pig is stolen and a food inspector arrives, determined to stop activities circumventing the food rationing.

Directed by Richard Eyre, with choreography by Stephen Mear and design by Tim Hatley, the cast features Sarah Lancashire, Reece Shearsmith, Adrian Scarborough and Whatsonstage.com Award winner Ann Emery.


Michael Coveney
Whatsonstage.com
★★★★

"‘It’s not just pork, Gilbert. It’s power.’ That’s the enabling quality of the sow with long lashes in Betty Blue Eyes, the most thoroughly English and charming new musical in the West End for a very long time … Producer Cameron Mackintosh has put the whole thing together with splendid panache, Eyre’s fine work supplemented by the fluently conceived, picturesque designs of Tim Hatley and the witty choreography – making the most of queues, victory marches and processions – of Stephen Mear. Bennett’s story line is faithfully followed and many of the favourite lines of Joyce (‘I’m going to throw caution to the wind and have a sweet sherry’) retained. But the ending is changed for musical comedy purposes, very much in the spirit of the adaptation: the best numbers take the characters out of their present and into their fantasies, and in that respect the musical is most like Billy and, for that matter, Billy Elliot, two of its stable-mates in the best of bulldog British musicals category.”

Michael Billington
Guardian
★★★★

"Musicals these days are constantly being based on movies. But this witty and delightful adaptation of the 1984 film A Private Function strikes me as better than the original … Much of the credit belongs to the show's American book writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman. They stick with the basic idea of a chiropodist and his wife purloining a pig being illegally reared for a royal wedding banquet in 1947. But they remind us how the vaunted egalitarianism of Attlee's Britain was undermined by ferocious status-seeking … Having previously written a show about an ugly duckling, George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics) also have no problem with one about a pig: after Honk!, you might say, comes Oink … Reece Shearsmith is immensely touching as the chiropodist, not least because he takes his craft seriously and finally rebels against endless humiliation by the town's bigwigs … And, even if Sarah Lancashire can't entirely escape Maggie Smith inflections as the social-climbing Joyce, she makes the character darker and more ruthless than in the movie: in her determination to triumph over the town's established grandees, there is even a strong hint of an incipient Mrs Thatcher.”

Libby Purves
The Times
★★★★★

“The 1940s cheer us up no end: no sooner have we warmed to the camaraderie of 1941 in Flare Path than we get this romping musical version of 1947: in which two American writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, adapt Alan Bennett’s tale of snobbery, skulduggery and illegal pig-raising for ‘a private function’ to mark the wedding of Princess Elizabeth. From this unlikely pedigree, with George Stiles’ music and Anthony Drewe’s lyrics, a new smash musical is born: witty, rude, lovable, warm, dramatic, hilarious … It contains Reece Shearsmith singing the best song ever written about verrucas, a duet performed with clothespegs on the nose, a Lindy-hop in an air raid, Sarah Lancashire tearing off her pinny for a Ginger Rogers routine, and a chorus of town councillors in a pub urinal. There’s an animatronic pig, and a dream sequence involving Prince Philip doing a soft-shoe shuffle with his hands behind his back. Sometimes you can’t stop laughing … one pleasure of Richard Eyre’s direction is that for all the dotty glee of it, the show is never allowed to milk, drag or bore … I see I have hardly mentioned the pig. It’s a great pig. And I am happy to relate that despite the usual desperate first-night deadline scuttle, two of us critics remained riveted by the escape door long enough to hear it sing in the final curtain call.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail
★★★★

"Betty Blue Eyes, which opened to oinks of happiness this week, is a musical comedy about a pig with eyes described not just as blue. They are 'cornflower or hyacinth, Wedgwood or azure' ... You’ve never heard a love song with the words 'foetid fungal growth'? You have now. The real star of Sir Richard Eyre’s cartoon-cheerful production is a mechanical pig. Betty the robotic porker waggles her hams, shudders with pleasure while having her chin stroked, wiggles her ears and generally steals the show ... The lavatorial comedy is taken to its logical conclusion when one scene takes place in a pub’s Gents. Betty does not make an appearance until halfway through the first half but after that the show moves up several gears. Another big moment is a dizzying dance number set in a wartime ballroom ... The human side of things is amply represented by Sarah Lancashire, playing the pushy wife of foot doctor Gilbert Chivers (Reece Shearsmith) ... Adrian Scarborough also struggles against a lively band but he has a good outing as the bureaucratic meat inspector. Ann Emery enjoys herself as Mrs Chivers’s 84 year-old mum ... The tunes are a little uneven. “Magic Fingers”, about the chiropodist’s touch, has a lovely ring of sadness about the suffering of wives in war ... Cameron Mackintosh... has been lucky with the topicality of the story ... The stage version never quite matches A Private Function for its eccentricity but Betty Blue Eyes, apart from being a blatant plug for Spam, will be welcomed by all animal lovers and piggy aficionados. Mustard."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph
★★★★

"I promise I’m telling no porky-pies when I say that this delightful new musical with an irresistible pig ... This stage version actually strikes me as being even better than the original ... Directed with brio and palpable affection by Richard Eyre, and choreographed with great panache by Stephen Mear, (it) feels warmer, funnier and more touching ... The show has two aces up its sleeve. The first is that its portrait of post-war austerity Britain ... The second ace is the pig, Betty Blue Eyes, who seems destined to provide the climactic supper. What a star she proves ... It is quite impossible not to fall in love with her, and at the curtain call she even sings, in a voice eerily reminiscent of Kylie Minogue ... Sarah Lancashire is both hilarious and unexpectedly touching as the wife desperately trying to gain her place in society, urging her husband to screw his courage to the sticking place and kill the pig with all the fervour of a Yorkshire Lady Macbeth. Reece Shearsmith has a lovely woebegone charm as her decent, henpecked spouse, and there are tremendous supporting performances from David Bamber as an evil town councillor and Adrian Scarborough as a bonkers meat inspector who looks like a member of the Gestapo. With this superbly endearing and entertaining show, producer Cameron Mackintosh has once again brought home the bacon."