Betty Blue Eyes is a musical based on A Private Function, a very funny film with screenplay by Alan Bennett. The story is set in 1947 post-war rationed Britain, where most meat is spam spam spam. It involves a pig and a banquet; it touches on class and prejudice (“Poor people’s houses smell”) and the black market; it gives an albeit light-hearted insight into some of the deprivations that people had to endure and it hints at lives lost and maimed in the war. Princess Elizabeth is marrying the Duke of Edinburgh and this is cause for celebration in these austere times. Meanwhile the Chilvers family have moved to a new town and are trying to make their way: Joyce Chilvers (Amy Booth-Steel) in particular wishes to improve her social status but is looked down on by the wealthier wives. She has a mother (Sally Mates) who can be embarrassing in public, but who is also used as an excuse on occasions (“She’s 74 you know”). Her husband, Gilbert, (Haydn Oakley, dressed and bespectacled to look like Alan Bennett) is a mild-mannered chiropodist with ‘Magic Fingers’ (the title of one of the songs) but when the leader of the town council, the local doctor, refuses to allow him to open a surgery on ‘The Parade’ he is driven to take drastic steps. Bludgeoning his way through all this is Mr. Wormold the meat inspector (Tobias Beer), determined to stamp out black market sales of meat and putting the fear of God into all and sundry. It all turns out all right of course, Mr. Wormold is foiled and Betty, the blue-eyed pig... but I must not give the game away.
This is a very professional production. The costumes are great, of the period and subtly illustrating the social class of the person. The set is cleverly contrived to make scene changes quick and easy. The choreography is superb. All seventeen actors apart from the three members of the Chilvers family have to play a variety of parts as well as sing and dance, and sing and dance they do, as if their lives depended on it. The play is funny, lively, entertaining and every member of the cast plays their part(s) superbly.
Alan Bennett this is not. Much of the wit of the play is lost through the introduction of the songs. This is a musical. But let A Private Function go, sit back and enjoy the sheer exuberance and talent of these actors. This is a great evening.