If you think chiropody, ration books, and a real lady of a pig sounds like an unlikely combination for a winning musical, you clearly haven’t seen Betty Blue Eyes.
This sparkling and surreal story is based on an Alan Bennett tale and, while not responsible for the musical version’s lyrics, his wry humour and social satire come swilling through.
The tale is packed with laughs, from the sexually-charged tension of foot doctor Gilbert Chilvers’ “magic fingers” to his wife’s ways with Spam, and the pumped up pomposity of the town council, who are plotting to break the 1947 ration regulations with a slap up meal in honour of the nuptials of the then Princess Elizabeth.
It is after our future queen that the main course – an unregistered swine – is named, with her ocular pig-mentation earning her the nickname Betty Blue Eyes. If that sounds charmingly disrespectful, you’ve got the tone just right.
The large ensemble cast from Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society get it just right too, with Chris Cuming’s direction and choreography bringing everything together. The Primrose ballroom scene is perfectly presented, with a stage full of dancers and strong vocals from the ‘Lionheart trio’ (Ruby Barwell-Dix, Holly Graham, and Genevieve Plunkett), and Michellle Unstead as Joyce Chilvers and Will Mugford as Gilbert. The central two are impressive throughout, with Mugford’s wide eyes believably innocent and a sweet counterpart to Unstead’s iron will. Their ‘fight’ is a touching and beautifully-wrought moment.
This is genuinely a piece that relies on the whole cast, but Tracy Melton (as Mother Dear) and Joseph Betts (as unlikely pig enthusiast Allardyce) deserve praise for their comic props. Alex Green hams it up as the villainous meat inspector Wormold.
The cast are supported by a live 10-piece band under the direction of Matt Brown, adding an extra frisson to proceedings and adding to the fully professional feel of this performance.
The show is funny, entertaining, and just a bit revolutionary: it’s a choice cut, and definitely worth a taste.
- Betty Blue Eyes continue at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, January 27, 2024.