Betty Blue Eyes - Union Theatre
Stiles and Drewe’s endearing musical returns to London
I’d be telling porkies if I said I didn’t find this revival of Betty Blue Eyes charming and enjoyable, with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s musical nicely enduring since its premiere in London’s West End in 2011. The script is pun ladened and quick-witted in which a post-war England attempts to rebuild whilst rations are low and spirits remain tested. Silliness and farce play out joyfully but the enthusiastic output of this production often struggles to match that of the existing material.
The year is 1947 and all anyone can talk about is the upcoming marriage between Elizabeth Windsor and Philip Mountbatten. Naturally, the big wigs of the town have decided to hold a private function (also the name of the film from Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray that this musical is based on) to celebrate. But with minimal rations, unworthy of such an occasion, the decision is made to rear a secret pig named Betty, hidden away from the prying eyes of the Gestapo-inspired, meat inspector. Meanwhile, Joyce and Gilbert are left out of the proceedings, struggling to make a name for themselves. Joyce dreams of being a woman of status, able to provide for her future family, whilst Gilbert, a chiropodist with “magic fingers,” yearns to open his own surgery to better serve his patients. Comedic schemes rise and fall apart but what will happen to Betty and her sparkly blue eyes when the big day arrives?
The eager cast do well to deliver catchy numbers and inject life into the bustling northern town. Harmonies are nicely hit as Jasper Cornish’s choreography is dutifully carried out. The space does however feel incredibly cramped, as the set design protrudes out into the already limited space and the upper level leaves the cast fighting for space and sightlines amongst the lighting rig. The production has of course been condensed to fit the smaller space, but still the design feels bloated. There are nice touches that highlight the wounds of the war still lingering on, particularly in the broken brickwork backdrop.
Amelia Atherton and Sam Kipling lead the cast as the married Joyce and Gilbert respectively. Atherton flexes her impressive vocals throughout, but more projection is required in the quieter moments as some lyrics were lost. There is a delightful hint of Hyacinth Bucket in her performance, desperate to keep up appearances when the home life she prides herself on is on the verge of chaos. Kipling is adorable as the unconventional Gilbert, doing his utmost to be the man he believes his wife deserves yet unsure of what that truly means. He is comical and tender, with some wonderful quips aimed in the direction of his mother-in-law. As a pair they work well together, convincing enough for us to root for them in the face of status and corruption.
A notable performance comes from Josh Perry as Henry Allardyce, a member of the town council who can’t help but be softened by Betty’s blue eyes. Paired with Kipling, they perform a humorous rendition of the titular song as Betty prances about between them. The puppet design perfectly irresistible, with Betty comprised of a patchwork of table cloths and tea cosies - not to mention her shining button blue eyes.
The press night performance was plagued by a few issues including fluffed lines, premature lighting changes and a brief moment involving a fire alarm, but the cast impressively powered through regardless. This is not at the same calibre as the original production but nonetheless, it is overflowing with charm, empowered by the strong founding material and a delightful night out.
Running till 22 April - Tickets
Photography - Michaela Walshe