It’s 1947 with rationing very much in force and austerity the watchword of the day. Despite Prime Minister Clement Atlee promising “fair shares for all” the residents of Shepardsford in Yorkshire are finding that is far from the truth.
This situation forms the setting for the latest musical being staged by Christchurch-based theatre group, Theatre 2000, ‘Betty Blue Eyes’ at the Regent Centre, Christchurch from 19 to 21 May.
The musical is based on a film called ‘A Private Function’ (1985), with a screenplay by Alan Bennett and starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin. It was adapted for the stage in 2011 by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe who had just completed writing extra songs for the stage version of Mary Poppins.
‘Betty Blue Eyes’ is full of glorious melodies and great comic moments. It first saw the light of day in the West End where it starred Sarah Lancashire and Reese Shearsmith.
In Theatre 2000’s version of the musical the town’s elite, namely the local doctor Swaby (Nigel Swatridge), solicitor Lockwood (Paul Simkin) and accountant Allardyce (Allan Wood) who comprise the town council, are planning a private function to commemorate the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. But not everyone is being invited. Included in the townspeople being spurned are the mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Alan Colclough) and his wife, Joyce (Louise King) who tends to have ideas above her station.
They live with Joyce’s mother, known throughout the piece as Mother Dear (Liz Sutherland), who spends her life moaning and generally being hungry. Joyce tries her best to serve tasty dishes but is thwarted at every turn by rationing and by local butchers being closed down for illegal trading by Meat Inspector Wormold from the Ministry of Food (John Gerken). Inevitably Joyce’s dishes are made up of variations of Spam, the only meat she can get.
The rationing of meat also causes the town councillors a problem. How can they find enough meat to serve the fine pork roast they are planning to the 150 guests who are being invited to the feast?
The solution is found in the rearing of an illicit pig found in a farm outside the town. However, another problem raises its head when Councillor Allardyce falls in love with the pig – the Betty of the title – on account of her beautiful blue eyes.
Confusion reigns as Gilbert decides to steal the pig to prove to his wife that he can do something to feed his family. How will it all turn out? Will Betty meet her fate or will she be saved? Will Gilbert turn out to be man enough for his wife? Will Meat Inspector Wormold find out about the pig?
The show is produced by Paul Bower, directed by Frank Ewins, choreographed by Angie Broomfield with musical direction by Lee Marchant. A great ensemble of actors, singers and dancers complete the cast in supporting roles.
Performances start at 7.30pm from 19 to 21 May with a matinee at 2.30pm on Saturday 21 May. Tickets are available online at www.regentcentre.co.uk by phone on 01202 499199 or in person at the Regent Centre box office priced £15, concessions £14.