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Betty Blue Eyes - Norfolk & Norwich Operatic Society (23.01.2024)


Set against a backdrop of post-war rationing, Betty Blue Eyes tells the story of husband and wife Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers, who are unfairly thwarted in their plans to move up in the world by corrupt and snobbish town councillors.


It's based on the Alan Bennett film of the 80s, A Private Function, and it sees the couple exact their revenge by stealing an unlicensed pig, Betty, which had been earmarked by the councillors to provide the pièce de résistance at an upcoming banquet to celebrate the nuptials of our queen-in-waiting, Princess Elizabeth.


If that sounds like a bizarre plot, then I've described it correctly, but it was more than just a quirky show - this absolute stonker of a musical had absolutely everything; beautiful vocal performances and stunning arrangements, impressive, energetic choreography, superb comic acting, and a wonderful musical score performed with skill and precision by both the 10-strong band and the onstage actor/musicians.



Though much of NNOS' promo focused on the eponymous pig, she plays second fiddle to a host of strong characters, very much in a familiar Alan Bennett mould. The most Bennett-esque of these characters is Gilbert Chilvers, the unassuming chiropodist played with great skill and charm by Will Mugford.


Mother Dear is another familiar Bennett character, and her portrayal by Tracy Melton threatens to steal the show at times, such is her wonderful comic performance. Equally show-stealing was Alex Green as 'meat inspector' Mr Wormold. His performance was a hilarious, whirling virtuoso turn as the villain of the piece, where he was able to showcase his brilliant dance ability alongside some booming quasi-operatic vocals.



I could bang on for ages about the strength of the performances, with the likes of Steven Melton, Joseph Betts, and Holly Graham also standing out. However, it was actually a thoroughly impressive ensemble piece, with everyone contributing to a slick, professional performance, and never more so than in the big musical numbers, with the powerhouse collective vocals of the company in Finale Ultimo being a particular highlight.


While as a contemporary production, Betty Blue Eyes may not be the most well-known of musicals, this charming, hilarious, and highly proficient production from NNOS is well worth taking a punt on. It graces the stage at Norwich Theatre Royal until 27 Jan - and I wholeheartedly recommend it.



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