Betty Blue Eyes at Salisbury Playhouse

revs betty 1  Credit Robert DayTHERE was a time when most visitors to London wanted to see a “show” and that meant a musical and those musicals ran for years and years and years.

And it was that pattern that Cameron Mackintosh expected to follow with his 2011 show Betty Blue Eyes, based on the beloved film A Private Function, celebrating the 1947 marriage of Lt Philip Mountbatten to Princess Elizabeth. It opened just as preparations were being finalised for the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth – and for the Olympic Games in London. All the omens were favourable.

But you can’t second guess the fickle public, and the delightful musical show by George Stiles and Anthony Drew closed down after only six months.

Now, thankfully for those who missed its first outing, the show is on a regional tour, and packing them in to Salisbury Playhouse, where it runs until Saturday 17th May.

The original story for A Private Function was created by Alan Bennett, and it is he on whom Haydn Oakley has based his performance as chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers, a gentle man with magic hands, married to the social climbing Joyce.

The Chilvers have just moved into a small northern town, ruled by a cabal of councillors and professionals. Rationing is being stepped up, but, with the police in their pockets, the councillors get the best meat, every day.

The group is planning a private banquet to celebrate the royal wedding, with a succulent pig as its centrepiece. Said porker is being fattened up in secret on a nearby farm.

But all that changes with the arrival of the peculiar inspector Mr Wormold, a man on a mission to paint illegal meat green, rendering it inedible.

Joyce Chilvers sees her chance to break into town society, and encourages her husband to steal the pig, but its arrival into their house creates pungent problems.

This new production, directed by Daniel Buckroyd and choreographed by Street-born Andrew Wright, not only uses a puppet Betty -the-Pig instead of the animatronic of the London show, but also subtly changes the emphasis of the story, mostly to advantageous effect.

Amy Booth-Steel injects humour, making the upwardly-mobile Joyce less of a monster, with Sally Mates as the ever-hungry and ingenious Mother Dear.

This really is an ensemble show, with six of the performers joining the four strong band at various times.

Joyce’s piano playing does need a bit of attention, as does the paucity of paint on Mr Wormold’s brush – the original production had a surreal flourish, while this has a tentative dab!

And Betty, operated by Lauren Logan making her professional debut, is a real charmer, guaranteed to delight not only Mr Allardyce on stage but the whole audience too.

Betty Blue Eyes has catchy songs (you can hear them being hummed around you on the way out) and a delightfully English story, quirky enough to be memorable with a warmth that takes it to your heart.


Photographs by Robert Day

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