An animatronic pig voiced by Kylie completes the arc of ludicrousness followed by Cameron Mackintosh’s latest wheeze, ‘Betty Blue Eyes’, which starts out reasonably faithful to the sly, wry Yorkshire-isms of the Alan Bennett screenplay from which it is adapted and ends up someplace altogether more fabulous.
The year is 1947 and married couple Joyce and Gilbert Chilvers (Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith) are the squeezed lower middle of Shepardsford, Yorkshire. They aspire, but are stymied by her abrasiveness, his shyness and the scheming of the rest of the town. After one knockback too many a humiliated Gilbert absconds with Betty, the eponymous pig that has been reared illicitly by Shepardsford’s great and good to be eaten in honour of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
The events that ensue are seismically daft. George Stiles and Antony Drewe’s musical numbers are vehicles for bizarre confessionals and camp flights of fancy that comprehensively banish the Yorkshire gloom. There’s some satire directed at bourgeois pettiness, but this is pure escapism, and the cast tackle it with gusto. Ann Emery’s selfish old bat Mother Dear is gleefully awful; Adrian Scarborough is compellingly weird as Stasi-ish meat inspector Wormold; Lancashire’s Joyce is magnificent in her rise from uptight wannabe social climber to slightly unhinged domestic goddess; and Shearsmith makes for a winsome straight guy, a welcome note amid the mounting silliness.
Despite Richard Eyre’s exuberant direction and Steve Mear’s hilariously kitschy choreography, I’m not sure it’ll last much longer than this cast. The songs (witty rather than memorable) really do require first-rate comic actors to pull them off. Still, it’ll always have Kylie, and it’s undeniably jolly good fun.