First Night: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello Theatre, London

4.00

Musical pig shows it can sizzle

Just in time for the royal wedding, we've tightened our belts, arranged a street party and put on a really good show. Not only that, the happy couple have moved among us and shared in the national mood.

Yes, the Queen and Prince Philip really do make an unscheduled appearance in the front room of Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers. The year is 1947 and times are hard. So the Yorkshire village has arranged a banquet and plans to defy the meat inspector by killing a pig.

In terms of musical comedy, too, we have gone back in time to a pastoral idyll before Lionel Bart and Andrew Lloyd Webber did their best to bring us up to date. The source is Alan Bennett's 1984 film, A Private Function, in which Michael Palin played the meek chiropodist Gilbert and Maggie Smith his Lady Macbeth of Ilkley.

Gilbert does feet, Joyce does fingers: she's a piano teacher. He dreams of a surgery on the village parade, she of social climbing and the great thing a musical can do is fill out those aspirations in big chorus numbers. So Gilbert's ministrations can become a yearning trio for ladies in housecoats and Joyce's lesson a big song-and-dance number with dry ice, ostrich feathers, top hat and tails.

Richard Eyre's production manages these elisions with dextrous efficiency on a design by Tim Hatley that takes us from back streets to tea shop and the butcher's and back to the Chilvers's, where Betty is smuggled and starts emitting green clouds of methane, prompting a smelly chorus in gas masks. Gilbert and Joyce sing duet in nose pegs, a West End first.

Ah, Betty, the star of the show, an animatronic pink beast, controlled remotely, but mostly static in her tin bath and mobile only in the eye, jaw and fluttering eyelash department. She doesn't move wondrously like the polar bear did in a recent "green" epic at the National Theatre. But she does win hearts, and that's the crux.

Composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe have written a series of charming songs, with nostalgic lilt and literate rhyming that explain the effect Betty Blue Eyes has on stout-hearted men. The Bennett screenplay has been adapted by two Americans, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, with absolute fidelity, though there's a much happier ending involving another pig-nap and a spam scam.

Joyce's mother, the incontinent 84-year-old who overhears plans of a murder and thinks her number's up, is played with a glum feistiness by Ann Emery. Reece Shearsmith and Sarah Lancashire are perfect casting as the Chilvers; he's charming, deft and moon-faced, while she translates her airs and graces into elegant dance lines and killer commands. Betty is their piggy in the muddle, all right.

Adrian Scarborough is a comic Hitler figure as Wormald the meat inspector, wielding a green paint brush to stigmatise any rogue joints, and the local council trio of David Bamber, Jack Edwards and Mark Meadows are presumably the sort of people David Cameron doesn't want to see spoiling our fun in two weeks.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?