I don’t know whether it’s because they were founded in 1950 or because the Austerity Britain of post-WW2 Blighty feels all too relevant, but the West Kirby Musical Theatre Company’s current choice of production is Betty Blue Eyes.
Set in 1947 on the brink of the young Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip, this is a musical reimagining of the Alan Bennet screenplay A Private Function.
Wartime drudgery drags on in rationing and tensions abound as some folk seem to get more meat on their bone than others.
Meanwhile, the war is relived in microcosm with their own “Gestapo” in the form of the joyless Wormald, the meat inspector who, having no sense of taste himself, has no compunction in putting butchers out of business and ruining everyone’s appetite.
Nonetheless, the Yorkshire townsfolk are determined to celebrate the royal wedding, and some in a bigger way than others.
Enter Betty, an unlicensed pig, bred by the local bigwigs for the salvers of a very exclusive party. Into the class-ridden Yorkshire town where sour faces and condescension are social currency, steps the mild-mannered Gilbert Chilvers and his upwardly mobile wife, Joyce. When her plans for Gilbert to take his place at the high table are scotched, the Chilvers contrive to even the score.
The ball-busting Mrs Chilvers has more than a touch of Lady Macbeth about her, which inspiration is acknowledged in the script when she contemplates the slaughter of poor Betty with a “dagger before” her and it’s a role that Joanne Poston plays with relish and excellent vocals.
Nick Hawkswell’s Gilbert is just the right side of softly sung and sweetly voiced, whilst the strong cast are all handy with a harmony. Special mention goes to Olivia Morley as the brattish Veronica and the accomplished Wallasey School of Ballet for their chorus line.
Accompanied by a live band, performed with verve and confidence, it’s the best of British comedy, where the self-effacing comes face to face with the airs and graces of the self-inflated, with a very British love affair with animals at its core.
The show is, in the best possible way, no private function: you are most definitely invited. It’d be rude not to go.
Betty Blue Eyes is playing at the Gladstone Theatre in Port Sunlight from 2 to 4 November. Tickets are available here