Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bringing Home the Bacon

What reasons are there to rejoice at the presence in the West End of a musical about a pig? Well, the occasion does give lazy writers the opportunity to indulge in a barrage of porcine puns such as bringing home the bacon, (I regret nothing!) the like of which have not been known since the release some thirteen years ago of Babe: Pig in the City. Aside from that, it ably demonstrates that stage adaptations of well-known movies are not always a cynical and creaking dirth of creativity. Indeed, the 1984 British dark comedy A Private Function has been radically reworked as Betty Blue Eyes. A Private Function, a bleak and biting satire of late 1940s rural England, is not an altogether obvious choice to be adapted into a musical comedy. As written by Alan Bennett, the film is an examination of post-war discontent in small-town Yorkshire as austerity Britain and food rationing are attempting to thwart the titular celebration for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten. The team behind Betty Blue Eyes, including renowned impresario Cameron Mackintosh have done stunningly well in staying satirical and faithful to Bennett's hilarious scenario whilst adding some hijinks, hysterics and heart along the way.

Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers, a mild-mannered chiropodist and his socially ambitious wife, are constantly thwarted in their attempts to rise the ranks and gain for themselves some much-deserved standing in the local community by the disdainful Dr. Swaby and his town council cronies. Stumbling upon their scheme of breeding an illegal pig to be killed and eaten at the private function, Gilbert, goaded by his ruthless wife, steals the pig, affectionately known as Betty. Much mayhem ensues as the Chilvers family try and cope with their unorthodox house-guest and her unruly bowels. Throw into the mix a psychotically dedicated meat inspector on the hunt for Betty and Joyce's bewildered mother who reckons that the house's newly-acquired stench may be emanating from her!

This is a truly original tale and its re-invention as a stage musical allows the creative team to well and truly let loose and explore the more wildly eccentric and cartooinsh elements of the story as well examining the Chilvers' relationship and back story and developing them into much more sympathetic protagonists. For fans of the film, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns but be assured that the inventiveness on display here, while contributing to an altogether more upbeat experience, does not undermine the central narrative which is essentially Macbeth with a pig! The memorably witty songs, by lyricist Anthony Drewe and composer George Stiles, are an unadulterated treat and I cannot praise the production itself highly enough. Director Richard Eyre effortlessly balances the epic with the intimate. Tender moments between husband and wife, played masterfully by T.V. favourites Reece Shearsmith and Sarah Lancashire, are not dwarfed by the wartime bombing of a ball-room or some elaborate fantasy sequences. An honourable mention also for the colourful supporting turns of Jack Edwards as Betty's best friend, Adrian Scarborough as the deranged inspector and Ann Emery as the irascible Mother Dear.

I reckon that Betty Blue Eyes is as entertaining a night in the theatre as one could wish for but it seems to me that chief among its achievements is that it serves as a towering defence of the controversial art of stage adaptation. This charming musical effortlessly demonstrates that stage adaptation can be a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise and is capable of reaping many riches. I, for one, will never have eyes for any other pig! It's safe to safe that I heartily reccommend going to see Betty Blue Eyes, which is playing at the Novello Theatre in the heart of London's West End until January. Have you recently taken a trip to London's theatre district? What did you see and what did you reckon to it? Do let me know. If it's not set in the past, I won't grumble. I'll just keep calm and carry on!

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