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.
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….
*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.