Betty Blue Eyes
Despite being a big fan of the work of Alan Bennett (like all right-thinking people), I’ve thus far managed not to see A Private Function, his first outing for the big screen. I bought my ticket for Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre, the new comic musical which has been adapted from it, because the options for matinee performances in London on the day in question were limited, and I anticipated that it would be cheerier than the alternatives – Butley at the nearby Duchess Theatre came a close second, and I’m sure War Horse is brilliant, but I didn’t fancy it as a birthday distraction. “Betty” is not without contemporary political resonances, of course, the background of the plot being the nationwide celebration of a royal wedding, supposedly lifting the nation at a time of austerity; class is also an issue, as always in Britain. Reece Shearsmith was excellent in the most nuanced role, that of the soft-hearted small town chiropodist who takes drastic action after being stymied in his career aspirations, stung into action by his social-climbing wife, engagingly played by Kirsty Hoiles (standing in for Sarah Lancashire). Adrian Scarborough also relished his turn as the SS-styled meat inspector; indeed, each of the featured players had a chance to shine with a cleverly-judged song (“Magic Fingers” being a particular highlight). The star of the piece, however, is the title character, the animatronic pig, an impressive (if not quite miraculous) creation, which elicited gasps of admiration from the largely youthful audience (if the Grand Circle was in any way representative; they also appreciated the off-colour jokes) every time it appeared. The set design was an even more stunning achievement, with rotating platforms and constantly shifting backdrops providing clever, filmic transitions between diverse locations – the war-time flashback is especially poignant and shocking. This is what large-scale commercial musical theatre, at its best, is all about – spectacle, big tunes, “hopes, fears, laughter, tears”, and effortless universal relevance. Ridiculously enjoyable.