Betty Blue Eyes

Previewed 19 March 2011, Opened 13 April 2011, Closed 24 September 2011 at the Novello Theatre in London

The West End Premiere of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's new musical Betty Blue Eyes in London starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith and produced by Cameron Mackintosh.

It's 1947 - belts are being tightened and the country's long suffering citizens are being told by the government that there will be fair shares for all in return for surviving Austerity Britain. Having won the war Britain seems to have lost the peace and the country is staggering under the burden of acute rationing, unemployment, and the coldest winter for decades. The only bright spark on the horizon is the impending Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.... Against this background Betty Blue Eyes tells the story of Betty, an adorable pig, who is being illegally reared to ensure the local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding with a lavish banquet while the local population make do with spam. Betty Blue Eyes promises to be an hilariously funny but sharply observed musical comedy.

Based on the acclaimed 1984 movie A Private Function, this new musical Betty Blue Eyes features music by George Stiles and lyrics by Anthony Drewe with book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, adapted from an original story by Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray and the screenplay of A Private Function by Alan Bennett. The cast for Betty Blue Eyes in London features Sarah Lancashire as 'Joyce' and Reece Shearsmith as 'Gilbert' along with David Bamber as 'Swaby', Jack Edwards as 'Allardyce', Ann Emery as 'Mother Dear', Mark Meadows as 'Lockwood' and Adrian Scarborough as 'Wormold'. Kylie Minogue has provided the pre-recorded voice of 'Betty'. The production is directed by Richard Eyre with musical staging by Stephen Mear, designs by Tim Hatley, lighting by Neil Austin and sound by Mick Potter.

"Sir Richard Eyre, the director of this stage version, often seems to be struggling to get out of a box that is simply too cramped for him and his actors to breathe in. His characters have to end up fantasising about things, so Eyre can use this device to open things up a bit with the odd dance routine in top hat and tails. Still, Reece Shearsmith acquits himself well and there is a fine Dick Dastardly turn from Adrian Scarborough as Inspector Wormwold. The great Dan Burton, too, deserves a mention in dispatches as a hugely entertaining Prince Philip. What else can one say about it, except that it made me laugh a lot, and, when it was over, I rather wished that I could have taken its four-legged star home with me." The Sunday Telegraph

"An endearingly enjoyable musical comedy about rationing and rashers served with lashings of (apple) sauce... Richard Eyre's superb production sizzles like a traditional Sunday roast and has a charm all its own. Even though the book is the witty work of two Americans, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, it's a very British musical comedy, of eeh-by-gum Yorkshire, crushing snobbery and nasty (and even Nazi) neighbours. But it is George Stiles's score of proper period tunes (including an oom-pah-pah number worthy of Lionel Bart) that makes the show sing. People's hopes, dreams and desires burst out in song and dance, like bubbles in a comic strip. And Stephen Mears's choreography - he brings on a force of bopping bobbies, a jive night at the Primrose Ballroom and much more - makes it swing. There are also three shining stars. Sarah Lancashire is magnificent as Joyce, a piano teacher and the Lady Macbeth of the locality... Reece Shearsmith is perfect as the meek, moon-faced Gilbert... Betty (an animatronic creation) bats her eyelids like Marilyn Monroe, sings like Kylie and doesn't put a trotter wrong. This little piggy will go to market and impresario Cameron Mackintosh will be deservedly squealing with delight all the way home. As was I." The Mail on Sunday

"Betty Blue Eyes has nothing like the charm of the original, and many of Alan Bennett's funniest lines have vanished. Instead of wry, semi-depressed chuckles, they've gone and made a big song and dance about it, with brassy, show-stopping numbers, much energetic leaping and twirling, and even some pink feather boas. Admittedly, this does dramatise the inner yearnings of some of the poor housewives for glamour and escape, but you may miss the subtler comedy... Reece Shearsmith is perfectly comfortable in the role of Gilbert, and Sarah Lancashire is terrific as Joyce, a woman most definitely on the rise... A number of scenes are turgid or pointlessly camp, especially a dance routine by some policemen wielding green paintbrushes, which is neither funny nor interesting. The director, Richard Eyre, often seems more in control with the more melancholy scenes... As for the animatronic Betty the pig herself, she very nearly steals the show, and certainly elicited the most sympathy from the audience... It's all entertaining enough, if patchy and sometimes just too silly." The Sunday Times

"The royal wedding theme is clearly designed to resonate with a 2011 audience - for the next couple of weeks, at least - and a make-do-and-mend mentality is equally meant to suit our austere times. The problem is that the show veers wildly between dark and light, grotesque and sentimental, domestic farce and burlesque fantasy, at the expense of any coherent tone. Sarah Lancashire's stellar performance has enough steely dignity to deflect charges of imitating Dame Maggie Smith in the movie. But her exhilarating number Nobody is oddly out of character as it morphs into MGM extravaganza. Parts, like street party number Another Little Victory and the hilarious Pig No Pig, undoubtedly crackle... And while Reece Shearsmith, David Bamber and Adrian Scarborough as a Goebbels-inspired meat inspector are all excellent character actors, it's a tough call to have three principals in a musical who are not natural singers." The Daily Express

The musical Betty Blue Eyes has been adapted from the film A Private Function by two Americans, Daniel Lipman and Ron Cowen. Daniel said: "We've always adored Alan Bennett, and then we were working late one night, and I went to get a cup of tea and flipped on the TV, and there was Betty from A Private Function on some cable channel. And a light bulb went off in my brain." A meeting was arranged with the British composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe. George said: "We both had a vague recollection of the film. We both knew it featured Maggie Smith and a pig - and Michael Palin. It seemed so unlikely. I thought 'What are two Americans going to do to Alan Bennett? They'll slaughter it!' We arrived in the morning for a coffee we thought might go into a lunch. We left at 11.30 that night. They had some brilliant ideas about what the songs could do and why it could become a musical. There's a delicious sense of fantasy about the story now - all these characters are yearning for something, and you get to see inside them."

Although based on the film A Private Function, Betty Blue Eyes is an original new British musical - the show's producer Cameron Mackintosh said: "There's still a hunger for original material out there. It reminds me of when we were opening Cats almost 30 years ago. Everyone was looking at us like the van to Rampton was late. But I feel the same about Betty Blue Eyes. It's usually the ones that, on paper, look like the opposite of sure-fire winners that go on and on. Betty's got my juices going. Whether I make a penny back or not, she's been a porker worth backing."

Betty Blue Eyes in London at the Novello Theatre previewed from 19 March 2011, opened on 13 April 2011 and closed 24 September 2011.