Review – Betty Blue Eyes, Novello Theatre

Monday 11 April 2011

You may wonder, should you luxuriate in having too much time on your hands and nothing better to do with it, what the Whingers have in common.

Andrew tries manfully to do his bit to save the planet. Phil finds it a bit of a chore but does find the recycling bin a useful over-flow receptacle for his umpteen empty wine bottles.

Andrew is vegetarian. Phil regards a bacon sandwich as the perfect hangover cure believing Andrew would cope better if he just got some meat inside him.

There you are, very little congruity between the Whingers really. Andrew would of course be on the side of the pig, Betty Blue Eyes, while Phil would be imagining the smell of bacon sizzling over his ring.

The only things they ever seem to agree on are artistic endeavours. For instance, both are partial to a bit of Alan Bennett and a touch of Maggie Smith, who were united in the enjoyable 1984 film A Private Function (whose screenplay Bennett based on a story by him and Malcolm Mowbray).

This musical reworking (book Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, music George Stiles, lyrics Anthony Drewe) was something the Whingers were eagerly anticipating. How fortuitous that it’s set in 1947, with austerity and recycling paramount, and preparations for a Royal Wedding celebration at full tilt. Producer Cameron Mackintosh must believe the Gods are smiling down on him indeed.

Sadly, we weren’t smiling much. Our (in the) minority report puts Betty on the butcher’s block along with our own necks, yet again.

Tail: Joyce (Sarah Lancashire*) and hubby chiropodist (a dentist only last week – what next a urologist?) Gilbert (Reece Shearsmith) live together with her mother (Ann Emery, half sister of Dick Emery) in Shepardsford, Yorkshire. Food is still rationed in post-war Britain. Joyce has plans to get invited to the local Royal Wedding celebrations. Gilbert, naturally, spends his time at people’s feet.

Plates of meat dominate the tale elsewhere too. Local bigwigs are rearing a pig illegally for the wedding feast, which is later abducted by Gilbert and Joyce (perhaps they should dress identically?). All have to contend with the meat inspector Wormwold.

Trotters: Andrew appeared to cope heroically with all the (mostly women’s) bare feet on display. Who knew that it’s only male feet he struggles with? Meanwhile Phil was entertaining his own disquiet. Shearsmith sings “Magic Fingers” whilst moving down a trio of unstockinged women, handling their feet without cleansing his hands in-between. Top marks for featuring “fungal infections” and “verrucas”: if he doesn’t exercise better hygiene those conditions may emerge in more than just the lyrics.

Neck: Wormwold is played by Whinger favourite Adrian Scarborough, gamely looking not just like ‘Allo ‘Allo!s Herr Flick, but also slightly out of his comfort zone. Let’s hear it for chutzpah.

BBE has travelled the Sondheim route; actors who can (kinda) sing, rather than singers who can act in some of the bigger roles.

Shoulder: Carried mainly on Lancashire’s with a likeable performance as the really rather ghastly social-climbing Joyce, making the best of “Nobody”; the only song that might have a life outside the show.

Cheek: Expeditious Liza Minnelli has already snaffled “Nobody” for her concert appearances.

Snout: The songs are serviceably jaunty rather than inspired. The overabundance of fart gags sees the Act 2 opener giving the leads an opportunity to sing with pegs on their noses. A first for us. For them too, no doubt.

Ribs: Far from aching. Barely tickled. We laughed rarely during this “Musical Comedy”.

Belly: Andrew released his stays only once for a true belly-laugh. Curiously enough, during a sight-gag involving Scarborough’s naked foot.

Ham: The performances, which are played very, very big. Verging on panto in a few instances.

Pork Chops: It’s not too late to cut a couple of numbers, particularly “Painting by Heart”. Richard Eyre‘s direction keeps things moving along efficiently enough, aided by the sets (Tim Hately) on twin revolves spinning the ever-changing scenes quite neatly, but the palette used is austerity gloom. It’s grim oop north don’t you know?

Hock: Phil bought Andrew a glass of wine at the interval to entice him back for the second act.

Butt: But…but the pig, you ask. What about that much-heralded animatronic pig**? All eyes focus on its head-rolling, eyelash-fluttering and dolphin-friendly mouth opening and shutting whenever it’s on stage. The Whingers found it not so much charming as distracting. Dare we say, a little creepy too? Heresy!

Rump End: The audience seemed to lap it up at the curtain-call despite only awarding occasional ripples of laughter throughout especially during Act 1.
Don’t say: “Well it was a preview”
Do say: “Many ovated and 6 out of the Whingers’ party of 10 gave it the thumbs up.”

Fillet: There was a “House Full” sign outside the Novello Theatre. Commendable, decently reduced “Austerity Prices” for previews have ensured the the producers have been able to fill it.

Bacon: Expect Mackintosh to bring some home. Despite what we think, he looks like he might have a hit on his hands. But then what do we know? We seem to be inhabiting another planet at the moment. Who was it that slobbered over The Umbrellas of Cherbourg?

Offal: We didn’t warm to the songs. We didn’t even warm to the pig. We just found it fairly….

Pork Scratchings

*Why do Sarah Lancashire’s programme credits omit her iconic Raquel in Coronation Street? Come on Sarah, one of the most brilliant characters ever to walk the cobbles, time to celebrate it.

**We can’t wait to see how the am-dram companies tackle this when the rights are eventually released. Here’s hoping there are decent puppeteers amongst The Dilton Marsh Players.

Despite his penchant for pork, Phil won’t be doing any spit-roasting on April 29th. He’s already been there, done that, as he got caught up in the wedding rehearsal on Piccadilly a few days ago.

Final footnote: Andrew says if one were going to be po-faced about BBE (which he is) one might say that, if nothing else, it successfully skewers British hypocrisy regarding the place of animals in our culture. Oh, and that the expressions of anti-Semitism  are ill-judged and needless.

Rating


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34 Responses to “Review – Betty Blue Eyes, Novello Theatre”

  1. Michael Chance Says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I hated the first act & poor old Adrian Scarborough was lumbered with that dreadful song which went on forever! Act 2 picked up a bit but the whole thing was utterly charmless. And what happened to the wonderful Alan Bennett script? I think there were three lines remaining from the film & one of those was repeated.

  2. Andrew Shaw Says:

    I am sorry to read such a lukewarm review. The night I went (which thanks to What’s On Stage included a Q and A with the book writers and Styles and Drewe) the audience was having a ball. Anthony Drewe did comment that we were the best audience so far. I attended school with Anthony and we used to appear in shows written by his brother (so I am completely biased and also really proud and happy for him ) but I genuinely think the songs are fantastic! The performances are big and the show has a heart and a huge feel good factor in these difficult times.

  3. garethjames Says:

    I’m afraid this does confirm you are definitely now on another planet to me. I think it may be the best British musical comedy ever!

    http://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/betty-blue-eyes

  4. margarita Says:

    I’ve not seen the production as I’ve heard the songs on the giveaway CD with the Evening Standard. Probably unfair to judge but I found them relentlessly cute and musically dull. I’m curious to know whether, in the interests of a feel good family musical in which the performers applaud the audience (as they now all do), the title character has a journey/destiny other than that of the film where a large bucket signifies …. well, signifies.

  5. Suzie Says:

    It’s a shame you guys didn’t enjoy it. But different people, different opinions. What did you think of Reece Shearsmith’s performance?

    I went to see BBE on the same night as Liza Minnelli. But I was sitting next to a group of drama students, so cue chatting throughout the show about whether they could get a photograph/autograph from her during the interval.

    That wasn’t the only mistake in the programme, they didn’t bother to update it for Adrian Scarborough’s Olivier win. So, he is forever Olivier nominated for After the Dance.

  6. LB Says:

    I’m so glad it’s not just me!! I agree whole-heartedly with you both, Whingers. Thank you!

  7. Ali67 Says:

    I was mega dissappointed. It just doesn’t deliver. It’s not funny enough and it looks incredibly cheap.

    Also, the House Full sign outside is an age old trick that theatres employ to make it look like it’s a hit show. Once the show starts, they put it outside. They do it all the time at Chicago. The night I saw Betty there were many empty seats, and lo and behold, it said House Full outside..

  8. JohnnyFox Says:

    There are times when it’s better to be pig ignorant

  9. Sean Says:

    I saw this a couple of weeks ago completely cold, but with mildly positive expectations given the pedigree of the whole production. I really disliked it. Act one far too long and the Painting by Heart number completely bamboozled me; not so much the actual song, but the staging seemed very out of place. Sarah Lancashire was in great vocal form and her big number, Nobody does stand out in a rather unmemorable score.

    However, given that I’m in such a minority I am planning to pay it another visit in a couple of months, once it’s settled in to see if post-previews, I warm to it.

  10. Phillip Price Says:

    I can’t respect a reviewer who just comes in before press night and doesn’t appreciate the process a show goes through. People whinge that nobody does preview prices anymore and when they do – people like you just come in anyway. It is badly behaved and should be ignored. Let the real critics do their jobs, not amateurs with no etiquette.

    I followed this link from Twitter and I’m really just amazed at this. A brand new British musical deserves a chance, that’s not to say it should automatically get a good review, but it deserves to be reviewed correctly – on press night. If legitimate critics want to come in early, they have the courtesy to ask. I know from being an intern in a PR agency.

    I enjoyed the show very much and I hear that it has got better and better. I can’t wait to go back and read what the real critics have to say on Thursday.

  11. Ali67 Says:

    Ah but the point is everyones a critic now.. This isn’t a review that will appear in the national press. Regardless of how much they are charging, people ARE paying to see the show so have a right to pass judgement on it.

  12. Suzie Says:

    Soooo, Phillip, you are suggesting that if you have seen a preview, you cannot express an opinion about it? It’s only allowed from press night onwards?

    ‘Legitimate critics’ get free tickets, that’s why they wait before they pass judgement. If we are going to argue about who has the right to criticise shows, it’s those who pay for tickets.

    Everybody has a right to express an opinion, no matter whether you agree with it or not.

    ‘People like you’, for someone in PR, you have a very aggressive vocabulary. Also, if you search any show, for example ‘frankenstein national theatre review’, the WEW are usually on the first page.

    So quite a lot of people must like their reviews, not bad for ‘amateurs’.

  13. Michael Says:

    This is not a review, just a report. All I want to say is that the night I saw the show last week I was sitting in one of the boxes and occasionally looked around at the audience. I cannot remember another time when I have seen so many people sitting in a theatre roaring with laughter. Hundreds of people having a wonderful time. That’s not my opinion – it’s just what I saw happening. I wish the show all the best. If we don’t encourage new writers then we are destined to live forever in a West End full of Juke Box musicals!

  14. Ali67 Says:

    No one was laughing very much the night I went.. Compare it to The Producers which was laugh out loud funny ALL the way through.. This simply cannot compete. Even Drowsy was funnier.

  15. Mike Says:

    Of course the Whingers have the right to comment, just as we have the right to ignore them – they’re the A A Gills of previewland. And as for comparing Betty with The Producers, not all comedies aim for raucous hilarity, some of us are happy to be gently amused in a way this show excels at. I had a great time at Betty, tapping my trotters along with those retro tunes, and enjoying the performances by some of my favourite actors. This is a musical which thankfully turns the clock back to pleasures well before the million dollar mega musicals. It should please everyone who hates Wicked and WWRY – you know who you are.

  16. Ron Says:

    The show is terrific, the music is catchy and thrilling. We loved the show.

  17. Dean Porter Says:

    Loved it!

  18. Lupo Says:

    The stage was awash with some of the best of our musical commedy actors, performing their socks off – actually socks off was quite a theme generally. Wonderful to see such small human stories be allowed such air time. Last night’s prolonged standing ovation was well deserved – totally charming and totally appreciated, we had a ball.

  19. Michael Says:

    Seems like I am in good company after all. Quote from Libby Purves’ 5-star review in The Times today “Sometimes you can’t stop laughing”. Well done Betty!

  20. Betsy Says:

    We squealed on this little porker, too. The WEW’s have it spot on!

  21. Sal Says:

    Completely disagree. One of the warmest and most charming musicals I’ve seen in long time. However, I did see one of the final previews with a friend who saw one of the first previews, and apparently it has become sharper, funnier and completely polished since then, as you’d expect. Splash out and go now it is open whingers, your minds will change!

  22. Mrs Spratt Says:

    The Butcher’s chart was inspired WEW!Pearls before swine I’d hasten to add!This Musical could’ve been a pig to review but you did it my fine fellows.You were searching for truffles but found chitterlings instead.

    All these fillums being churned into Musicals- when will it end?Why do we need Yanks to write the “book” – are we no good at it?The film was and still is a delight,I cannot see the musical replicating Maggie and Liz Smith’s wonderful performances -so I would be constantly reminded of these if I saw the show.Pigs can fly.


  23. [...] perfectly nice,” starts Perfect at somusicaltheatre.com. The most damning comes from the West End Whingers: “We didn’t warm to the songs. We didn’t even warm to the pig.” They accuse Betty [...]

  24. Dominick Says:

    The night I went the audience (myself included) seemed to be having a whale of a time. I loved it and hope it does well.

  25. oldcolner Says:

    We werent impressed at our preview. Though they got a good ovation at the end.
    It wasnt anywhere near as good as End of the rainbow (stunning) or Warhorse far better animation than Betty too. Sarah L gives it her all, but its rather sterotyped. It also loses the plot of getting a shop for the chiropodist after the interval.

    It will play to full houses if they continue charging £12.50 and may last over the summer, but it wont appeal to overseas tourists. A number walked out at the interval the views werent that great from the grand circle till they left.

  26. Vos Says:

    Well executed and nice enough but none of the numbers really moved me and the pace was a little slow in places. I found the staging adequate, but a little un-original and the whole thing felt a tad dated. The cast were very good.
    I applaud everyone for putting a new musical on the stage and I hope it succeeds. I just didn’t come away feeling quite as elated as I did when I saw Matilda earlier in the year and felt that Love Story had stronger numbers.
    I saw it half way through previews. The couple next to me didn’t return for the second half after looking bored senseless through the first, the man on the other side said it was the best thing he’d seen in years. My view was like my seat – in the middle.

  27. audience pro Says:

    I really wanted to like it, but it just wasn’t funny enough and the songs weren’t good enough. What a shame as the cast was very strong. The pig is freaky, and Sarah Lancashire looks a few years (decade) older than her leading man.

    It was a musical version of “‘Allo,’Allo” – which some people must have found funny as it was on TV for years. But for me it was like a private function that I wasn’t invited to. Maybe just too young to get it.

  28. Shandy Rae Says:

    What a stinker! Couldn’t wait for the interval so that I could escape!!


  29. [...] waffled as the online reviews – tweeters and bloggers – were a mix of sizzle and roast. The Whingers were apathetic, while Ought to be Clowns said it was destined for greatness. Who was I to believe? [...]

  30. webcowgirl Says:

    Hmm. I enjoyed this more than you guys but my rating would be a three nonetheless. Still, it’s a fun production, it’s better than most new musicals, and I liked the songs.

  31. rolly Says:

    only just seen this but i totally agree with you, what a disappointment

    http://ginarowland.blogspot.com/2011/07/pig-no-pig.html

    • John Stone Says:

      Saw it last night and I think you have been too kind. Whilst Sarah Lancashire did a slightly good impersonation of Maggie Smith I cannot understand why Reece Shearsmith had based his performance on an old Norman Wisdom film.
      The songs and music seemed to be the result of reading the Dummies guide to writing a musical without understanding it. The the Monty Python “The Song That Goes Like This” outshines anything in this where the numbers had trite lyrics and unhummable and totally forgettable music. The choreography was just weird.
      The first act lasted about 75 minutes and the second was mercifully a bit shorter. But best not to go to this.
      The only consolation to experiencing this so called musical was that someone else had paid for the tickets.

  32. Stevie Says:

    Closing 24th Sept: The slick professionalism of Lend Me A Tenor got my attendance three times but Betty failed despite the vivid poster campaign and heavy weight hype. Quite enjoyable but perhaps just too English and twee. The tertiary messages could have been stronger [sinister], just how many bubble gum shows do we need – Leggy Blondes etc? In any event it’s always worrying to see good shows failing to break even; CM is correct in stating that in uncertain times people revert to what they know (and trust), less willing to take a punt on the unknown. It’s also worth remembering the fierce competition within live entertainment and other leisure industries vying for the pound-in-the-pocket; a wonder anyone turns up at all. We can thank the West End’s International reputation for that. As for pricing; theatre-land unfathomably avoids basic marketing techniques such as ‘tickets from £I5′. I still like bacon.


  33. [...] themes of recession and royal matrimony. “How fortuitous that it’s set in 1947,” point out bloggers West End Whingers, “with austerity and recycling paramount and preparations for a royal wedding celebration at [...]


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