Betty Blue Eyes Review: Raquel In Royston Vasey

Starring Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen) and Sarah Lancashire (Raquel in Coronation Street); watching Betty Blue Eyes was a bit like watching a musical amalgamation of my parents’ 1990s TV highlights. Indeed, it is a genius crowd-pleasing pairing for a new West End show.

Both actors shine, Shearsmith with his own brand of uplifting self-deprecation and perfectly timed facial expressions, Lancashire with her natural flare for injecting comedy into moments of melancholy, and vice versa. Although it is Adrian Scarborough who plays the eagle-eyed latrine-lurking meat inspector who brings home the bacon this time, somehow managing to roll Chitty Bang Bang’s Professor Pots, Baron Bomburst and The Child Catcher into one wonderfully villainous and perverse truffle of a performance.

The best scene in the show depicts a glistening and idyllic 1940s ballroom which (just when the audience are waiting for the catchy chorus to come round again) crashes into a black oblivion of smoke and rubble – in short, it's a ballroom blitz. Although the plot device here is not exactly original (I saw a scene just like it in the recent Cinderella ballet at Sadler’s Wells), the chorus girls in Betty Blue Eyes are fabulous, giving ear-to-ear grins one minute, then hilarious frowns with invasively pointed toes and stuffy pouts the next. Alan Bennett, who wrote the screenplay for A Private Function, has a spiritual presence throughout the show. The audience are served up a very loyal portrait of Benettian Yorkshire, an illustration of his home county that we’re now so accustomed to his work delivering.

Whilst some moments are side-splitting other jokes are a little undercooked, perhaps aimed at day-tripping Raquel fans and tourists, it seems even the cast struggle not to wince at some of the show's less-accomplished punchlines. Betty Blue Eyes faces the classic West End dilemma of needing to create funny ticket-selling caricatures for all the family to enjoy without boring to death the much smaller core of London's creative intelligentia, wine-swigging West End know-it-alls and the impossible-to-impress media whores. Sadly it is the latter who have the final say on whether a show is any good.

Austerity Britain, the Royal Family, the introduction of TV broadcasts, and the recent downfall of the Nazi empire provide sufficient satirical meat to chew on but too often Betty Blue Eyes shies away from being too impactful, choosing instead to be a light-hearted glossary, keeping perhaps tactically within the school syllabus, Betty Blue Eyes could have been called Keep Calm And Carry On: The Musical.

Several reviews have likened the show to Animal Farm, The Wizard of Oz and even Wicked (The ballroom number certainly sounds quite similar to Ozdust Ballroom, whilst the funniest song about a pig in the house sounds very much like The House Began to Pitch)

I was reminded of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, most obviously the ‘Kill The Pig’ routine, but also the wider concept of using the pig as a metaphor for human evil, social invention and the descent of civilisation.

The show is quite evangelical in its constant condemning of killing animals, using comedy to seduce the audience into listening first and then bludgeoning them with a slice of animal rights. Indeed, watching Betty Blue Eyes with a vegetarian friend sat next to me was interesting - to note just how much our appetite as a nationa has changed over last 50 years, with millions happily choosing not to eat meat at all and many more of us quite willingly living on a diet of processed trash.

Betty Blue Eyes is a fun musical, held together by its strong lead actors, and filled with charming details. Perfectly timed in the aftermath of a recession and in the run-up to a Royal Wedding, it’s well worth a watch, if only to see Reece Shearsmith in a pair of sock suspenders.

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