Betty Blue Eyes, Theatre 2000 at Christchurch Regent Centre

promptbettyCAMERON Mackintosh’s “austerity musical” Betty Blue Eyes – a stage reworking of the film A Private Function – looked like a sure-fire hit when it opened in London in 2011 to enthusiastic reviews … but it only lasted six months, to the disappointment and puzzlement of many.

It was revived for a provincial tour in 2014, and this week had its first amateur production in Christchurch. And Theatre 2000 once again proved what a terrific company they are, and what a wonderful show it is.

Gentle chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers has moved, with his wife Joyce and her octogenarian mother, to the northern town of Shepardsford, controlled by the professional men who sit on the council.

It’s 1947 and the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip is weeks away. The councillors have arranged a “private function” to celebrate, and with rationing still in full force and the food police round every corner, they have secreted a pig at a local farm where it is being fattened for the occasion.

The ruling cabal doesn’t want an upstart foot doctor opening up on The Parade, but our Mr Chilvers discovers the pig, one Betty Blue Eyes, and realises if he steals her, the power will shift into his hands and that just might placate his social-climbing wife.

Frank Ewins production for Theatre 2000, with Angie Broomfield in charge of the complicated choreography, was a triumph.

Alan Colclough is a perfect Gilbert, dependable, affable and played with enough humour avoid dullness, and Louise King is a much warmer Joyce than the other two performances I have seen in the role. You both believe in and care about them, and that gives the show a real heart.

Liz Sutherland is having fun as Mother Dear, and the three of them nailed the complex and funny Pig No Pig.

There was exceptional singing from Coral Norton, Claire Smith and Sarah Rustici in the lovely Magic Fingers number, and the council trio (Nigel Swatridge, Allan Wood and Paul Simkin) also demonstrated fine vocal powers, under the musical direction of Lee Marchant.

John Gerken was a creepily enthusiastic meat inspector, in this excellent ensemble cast.

If the set was much simpler than the professional productions, it was equally effective and loss of the animatronic Betty didn’t detract from the show one iota.

If Betty Blue Eyes finds its place on the amateur scene, it provides real challenges of timing, choreography, singing and period detail, and you won’t see it better done than by Theatre 2000.

It was a hugely enjoyable production, splendidly performed.


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