Betty Blue Eyes is a lesser-known musical written by Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman, based on the Alan Bennet story a Private Function. Music by George Stiles and Lyrics by Andrew Drewe this is a charming family show, funny, uplifting and memorable just what we needed on a cold autumn evening at the Gladstone Theatre Wirral. Set in 1947 and, having won the war, Britain seems to have lost peace, and the country is staggering under the burden of rationing, unemployment and the coldest winter for decades. The opening song of ‘Fair Shares for All’ instantly establishes the fragile optimism of austerity Britain.
This is an absolutely charming production, directed with a playful sense of period by Sharon Henderson who clearly knew what she wanted from this production, with so many elements working brilliantly together. Musical Director Robert Bowness and his splendid orchestra were outstanding as were the young stars of The Wallasey School of Ballet, the choreography was in keeping with the period and was used in appropriate scenes managed expertly by Deborah Clark. Having seen and enjoyed ‘A Private Function’ I was doubtful of it being rejigged into a musical, how wrong I was, it affectionately pokes fun at the small-town politics and petty snobbery of post-war Britain a real triumph. The songs are lovely, the dialogue is witty and costumes are outstanding. West Kirby Musical Theatre chose well, this show was perfect for them. The talented cast work their socks off to give their audience a great night out, it was obvious by their smiling faces they enjoyed every minute.
Looking to lease a property on the sought-after Parade in the village of Shepardsford we meet Gilbert Chilvers (Nick Hawkswell) as a likeable chiropodist, his gentle personality captures the audience hearts, his rendition of the song ‘The kind of man I am’ was truly beautiful an accomplished sensitive performance from a very talented actor. His Lady Macbeth of a wife Joyce Chilvers, all ruthless ambition is stunningly portrayed by Joanne Poston, superbly delivering her big numbers; ‘Nobody’ ‘and Kill the Pig. The Primrose Ballroom sequence, also beautifully choreographed by Deborah Clark was a delight, Jo sang ‘Lionheart’ with such passion, supported by the glamorous vocal trio (Tia Gill, Cressida Barker, Samantha Arnold) an accomplished performance. Mother Dear (Kathy Jordan) was the perfect addition to the Chilvers family and her old lady antics and characterisation provided much of the comedy, her face stole the scene in “Pig, no Pig!”. Hilarious performance.
The storyline is centred around, an adorable pig ‘Betty’ (brilliant job by puppeteer Ruth Stenhouse) who is being illegally reared to ensure the local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten with a lavish banquet while the local population make do with spam. With only the well-connected invited including Dr James Swaby (Mike Ellis), Henry Allardyce (Andrew Lee) and Frances Lockwood (John Phipps) all members of the Town Council. Poor chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his aspiring wife Joyce are not included, Joyce was furious.
Gestapo-like meat inspector dressed in black leather Mr Wormold (Dave Swift) is ready to shut down and lock up any butcher contravening food rationing, painting them with bright green paint, an unfulfilled Picasso his song ‘Painting by Heart’ is gloriously unique. Our heroine ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ is being kept hidden away by Farmer Sutcliffe (Dave Don) on his farm.
However, when town officials turned down Gilbert's application to open his own surgery, plus Joyce’s anger about not being invited to the banquet, he decides to steal Betty from Sutcliffe’s farm, with hilarious consequences. Together with Joyce we see action packed theft of Betty via projection on the set very clever and absolutely hilarious. Jo Poston and Nick Hawkswell are expertly cast - they were indeed Joyce and Gilbert.
As always with an ensemble of this size it is impossible to mention everyone, so I will not try, you were all magnificent. However, I must mention a number of exceptional moments, for me: ‘Magic Fingers’, is a seductive little number, Gilbert’s clients Mrs. Roach (Helen Roberts) Mrs. Lester (Amy Duggan) and Mrs. Turnbull (Becki Jenkin) all personally grieving for loss of their men. However, his last appointment of the day Mrs Metcalf (Tia Gill) seducing poor Gilbert, not only was she hilarious but her voice was outstanding. The very funny ‘Since the War’ with all the men in the urinal “piss-stained, piss-poor, pisspot of a country” need to change, is so funny a laugh out loud moment.
The title song ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ is so beautifully sung by Allardyce and Gilbert, two such rich singing voices worked so well. Then there is Betty herself and her beautiful blue eyes, who lived to fight another day, she stole our hearts, what a performance.
Congratulations West Kirby Musical Theatre Company for this great family show, talented cast, fabulous songs and stunning set. It made me laugh, cry and touched all our hearts what more could you want from a night at the theatre.
Thank you so much for inviting me. It is a performance I will remember for a long time.
Joanne Rymer – NODA District 4
NORTH WEST END REVIEW
A pig, a chiropodist and a lot of SPAM might seem unusual ingredients for a musical but WKMTC’s Betty Blue Eyes is a charming, funny and heart-warming show that delighted the packed house at the Gladstone Theatre last night.
Adapted from the Alan Bennett play and film A Private Function, this was another great choice for the Wirral musical society. Like last year’s Christmas Carol, these character musicals suit them so well, not only showcasing their superb singing but also some gems of character acting.
Set in 1947, the town are celebrating the Royal wedding but only the well-connected folk of the town council are invited to the private function like the doctor, the lawyer and the accountant. Poor chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his aspiring wife Joyce are not included. There’s little meat to be had at the butchers, so secretly a little pig is being reared for the banquet, under the nose of the gestapo-like inspector – Mr Wormold.
Director Sharon Henderson gives us a slick, well-staged production with her team of Rob Bowness, musical director and his wonderful orchestra and choreographer Deborah Clark with her talented young troupe from Wallasey school of Ballet. It’s a large company to get on a stage and of course in community theatre you want to include everyone, at times it was a little crowded, especially when the dancers need space, as in the Primrose Ballroom where the acrobatics really gave us the wow factor. I loved the ensemble of townswomen with their shopping bags giving us the real feel of feeding a family on a ration-book in Fair shares for All. In the second act, the posh ladies with their hankies and the working-class women with their brooms – a lovely touch in It’s an ill-wind. Every single one of this large ensemble were singing their hearts out and acting their socks off: WKMTC showing us just what talent there is on the Wirral.
A funny plot with some wonderful characters, the commanding Joyce (Joanne Poston) and amiable Gilbert (Nick Hawkswell) as the leading couple could have been on a professional stage, the wonderful Joyce’s mother played by Kathy Jordan gave us the comedy in the very funny Pig No Pig. The town council – Allardyce (Andrew Lee) Swaby (Mike Ellis) and Lockwood (John Phipps) gave great performances along with Dave Don in their plan for the unsuspecting pig named Betty, skillfully handled by Ruth Stenhouse.
It would be impossible to mention everyone but for me just some of the highlights were: the beautifully sung Magic Fingers – When Gilbert does his house-rounds to Mrs. Roach (Helen Roberts) Mrs. Lester (Amy Duggan) and Mrs. Turnbull (Becki Jenkins) it was a goose bump moment! The reprise with Mrs. Metcalf (Tia Gill) had a different feel but was just as memorable. The delightful Betty Blue Eyes sung by Allardyce and Gilbert: their voices blended so well. The very funny Since the War with all the men in the urinal and all the company with the confessions song which tells us the end of the tale. We even get to see the royal couple (Sophie Cottrell and Tom Parry) The authentic costumes gave us a good sense of period with excellent backdrops providing still and moving images – a great action film of stealing the pig.
In the end, all’s well that ends well – Betty, with her blue eyes, survives the butcher’s knife and everyone gets invited to the celebration, even if it’s only SPAM on the menu.
This is a super, lesser-known musical written by Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman, although there’s a lot of Alan Bennett in there, with music by George Stiles and Lyrics by Andrew Drewe. It’s a great family show – charming, funny, uplifting and memorable and WKMTC at their best. A thoroughly enjoyable evening!
Reviewer: Bev Clarke Reviewed: 3rd November 2023
North West End UK Rating:
PREVIEW: Birkenhead News
Expect a feast of British comedy with ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ at the Gladstone Theatre,
I don’t know whether it’s because they were founded in 1950 or because the Austerity Britain of post-WW2 Blighty feels all too relevant, but the West Kirby Musical Theatre Company’s current choice of production is Betty Blue Eyes.
Set in 1947 on the brink of the young Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, this is a musical reimagining of the Alan Bennett screenplay A Private Function.
Wartime drudgery drags on in rationing and tensions abound as some folk seem to get more meat on their bone than others.
Meanwhile, the war is relived in microcosm with their own “Gestapo” in the form of the joyless Wormald, the meat inspector who, having no sense of taste himself, has no compunction in putting butchers out of business and ruining everyone’s appetite.
Nonetheless, the Yorkshire townsfolk are determined to celebrate the royal wedding, and some in a bigger way than others.
Enter Betty, an unlicensed pig, bred by the local bigwigs for the salvers of a very exclusive party. Into the class-ridden Yorkshire town where sour faces and condescension are social currency, steps the mild-mannered Gilbert Chilvers and his upwardly mobile wife, Joyce. When her plans for Gilbert to take his place at the high table are scotched, the Chilvers contrive to even the score.
The ball-busting Mrs Chilvers has more than a touch of Lady Macbeth about her, which inspiration is acknowledged in the script when she contemplates the slaughter of poor Betty with a “dagger before” her and it’s a role that Joanne Poston plays with relish and excellent vocals.
Nick Hawkswell’s Gilbert is just the right side of softly sung and sweetly voiced, whilst the strong cast are all handy with a harmony. Special mention goes to Olivia Morley as the brattish Veronica and the accomplished Wallasey School of Ballet for their chorus line.
Accompanied by a live band, performed with verve and confidence, it’s the best of British comedy, where the self-effacing comes face to face with the airs and graces of the self-inflated, with a very British love affair with animals at its core.
The show is, in the best possible way, no private function: you are most definitely invited. It’d be rude not to go.
Betty Blue Eyes is playing at the Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight from 2 to 4 November.