Betty Blue Eyes – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse

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Betty Blue Eyes – Review

West Yorkshire Playhouse, June 2014

by Pauline Cooper

The post-war period of austerity measures and rationing are explored in Betty Blue Eyes at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The play is a lively, heart-warming and hilarious musical comedy. Set in a small northern town, chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his socially ambitious wife aim to set up business at home.

Gilbert proves to be popular among his female clientele with his ‘magic fingers, magic hands’. His wife proves herself a dab hand at turning spam into inventive and appetising dishes. It’s 1947 and the head of the town council, influential friends and corrupt officials plan a private function to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of Princess Elizabeth to the Duke of Edinburgh.

betty blue eyes yorkshire theatreThey purchase an ‘unlicensed’ pig. Then they leave it to secretly fatten up at a farm. The innocent animal is intended for a lavish roast pork feast. But when Gilbert’s plans to set up his chiropodist business in town centre premises are thwarted, he hatches a plan to pig nap the animal. The pig melts hearts of some characters, with its distinctive blue eyes, and sends others into demented knife-wielding madness.

Will the 150 guests at the ‘do’ be served pork or spam?

“Riotous story with a toe-tapping score”

The musical is based on the film A Private Function for which Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay. Music is by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drew. It is hard to single out any member of the 17-strong stellar cast. Many of them take on multiple roles and, as well as belting out the catchy musical numbers, also impress with dazzling dance routines.

Young Lauren Logan learned puppetry skills to play Betty. She brings the pig to life with amazing ability. Tobias Beer, as Mr Wormald, is spot on as an officious ministry of food zealot. He closes down shops for minor misdemeanours and callously confiscates goods.

Haydn Oakley as Gilbert is excellent as a gentle-natured, good-humoured man. At times his demanding wife (Amy Booth-Steel) intimidates him. But the affection between the pair is clear. Sally Mates, as Joyce’s mother, puts in a show-stopping performance. She combines batty old bat and wily, crafty character in every scene.

betty blue eyes review leedsThe production received rave reviews when it premiered in the West End in 2011. Later it picks up an Olivier award nomination for Best New Musical. This updated version, directed by Daniel Buckroyd, marries Bennett’s riotous story with a witty toe-tapping musical score.

“Big creative team”

The play also examines the dark shadow that falls over the nation as a consequence of the Second World War. It examines the way people try to carry on their lives. Joyce looks back at her days “cutting the rug” dancing at the Primrose ballroom when bombs are falling and air raid wardens rescue young women from the rubble.

A big creative team is behind the creation of the piece. This includes a dialect coach and puppetry director. Set designer Sara Perks seamlessly takes the audience from the street outside the butchers into the Chilvers’ home and onto the farm.

It forms part of an Alan Bennett season at the Playhouse which continues with Talking Heads, the much loved televised monologues which will be taken out to communities across Leeds.

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