Betty Blue Eyes tickets at the Novello Theatre starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith

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Cameron Mackintosh’s new musical Betty Blue Eyes, based on the hit film A Private Function by Alan Bennett and starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith. At the Novello Theatre for a limited time only!

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Venue Information

Novello Theatre, 5 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4LD
Nearest Tube or Train: Covent Garden (Piccadilly line)
Nearest Buses: 6, 13, 19, 77a

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Betty Blue Eyes – Review
A review of Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Sarah Lancashire as Joyce in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan"][/caption] BETTY BLUE EYES  A little bit of austerity joy has sprung up at the Novello Theatre where Cameron Mackintosh’s latest West End venture, Betty Blue Eyes, based on Malcolm Mowbray’s 1984 film A Private Function, has started a squealingly good run. Set in a small Yorkshire town just after the Second World War, when austerity and food rationing is starting to bite hard, a group of local dignitaries plan to raise and slaughter an illegal pig for an exclusive, private function to celebrate the impending wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Phillip. Alongside this runs the story of timid chiropodist Gilbert (Reece Shearsmith) and his social-climbing wife Joyce (Sarah Lancashire), who are thwarted in their efforts to get a foothold on the town’s social ladder and decide to steal the pig as an act of revenge (and hunger!). Given the peculiarly British subject matter and source material, Mackintosh has clearly taken a gamble in hiring US screenwriters Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman to pen the book of the show, particularly as it’s their first musical. However, having a bit of distance from a subject is not a bad thing and they’ve written some pacey, witty dialogue that captures the spirit of the times without paying undue reverence to the movie. But it’s the musical numbers by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe that go much further than the book in rounding out the themes of the show, without ever losing sight of the “let’s have fun” element which is writ large throughout this production. Betty Blue Eyes is the most tuneful, humorous and inventive original score we’ve heard in the West End for some time, with a number of songs guaranteed to be around forever. Cameron Mackintosh has championed Stiles & Drewe for decades and they have enjoyed notable success but never a big West End production to truly call their own. Mackintosh had to step up to the plate at some point, and he’s done so with a show that will, finally, put this writing duo firmly on the international map of Class A theatre composers. There is also no doubt that Alan Bennett’s screenplay for A Private Function, written with the movie’s director Malcolm Mowbray, is a major factor in the night’s success. Whilst the film was a little too depressing to be jolly good farce and too much like comedy to be a decent observation of post-war Britain, it was carried by Bennett’s beautifully observed characters – and the performances of Maggie Smith, Michael Palin, Denholm Elliot et al. Much of the success of Richard Eyre’s production is based on the same factors. An animatronics pig may be the title lead of Betty Blue Eyes (given the rumoured expense of the pig, it was strangely unanimated, with stellar facial gestures but nothing that a good Jim Henson puppet couldn’t have achieved), but the real leads act Betty off the stage. Sarah Lancashire in the role of Joyce Chivers is as close to a musical theatre revelation as you are likely to get, and plays her like she has been at the epicentre of musical theatre life in Britain for the last thirty years. There’s no question that the song of the night is "Nobody", which she delivers with a fierce gusto that will be sung back to Cameron Mackintosh by thousands of auditioning gals for decades to come. Lancashire plays Joyce much warmer than Maggie Smith, which in some ways highlights the tonal difference between the show and the film. Anyone who can play a sexy, house-proud Northern matriarch whilst singing big, show-stopping numbers, all the while adding an emotional heart, a dry wit and a beautifully composed showbiz smile, gets my vote! [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Reece Shearsmith in Betty Blue Eyes. Photo: Roy Tan"][/caption] The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith puts in a surprisingly emotive and convincing performance as Gilbert, presumably honed from years of playing it straight in macabre (or farcical) surrounds, and whilst he is not an obvious song and dance man, he makes Gilbert his own. Adrian Scarborough doesn’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre with Wormwold, the government food inspector who, in true ‘Allo ‘Allo! style, is not only dressed as the Gestapo, but continually referred to as the Gestapo, taking the show more in the direction of Panto through no fault of his own. His big number, Painting By Heart, which reveals his passion for his work – and the painting of illegal meat to render it inedible – seems to come too early, and we need to see more of his evil ways before he can lighten up and show us his passionate side. Also, painting Wormwold as the evil villain takes some of the meanness away from the town’s elite, reinforced by turning Allardyce (a lovely performance by Jack Edwards) into a warm and cuddly “pigophile” and Dr Swayby, played by David Bamber, as a rather one-dimensional bigot (his anti-Semitic remarks may have been historically accurate, but don’t fit well in a show that presents itself as nothing less than a joyous romp through the post-war years). All of this slightly undermines what’s at the story’s heart: that British class meant that not everyone was living in austere times. Richard Eyre has put together a fine, National Theatre-quality supporting cast, notably Ann Emery as Mother Dear. It could have just have been me, but there felt like a subtle nod to Les Miserables in a number of scenes, perhaps some light Cameron Mackintosh ribbing by the creative team, with barricades stormed by headscarf-clad matriarchs through Stephen Mear’s quirky and inventive choreography. Design by Tim Hatley ensures that the show keeps momentum, beautifully set against a cartoon-like blue sky and green hills. For Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes must feel like a small, austerity production. The Novello is not quite a tiny, converted chocolate factory in South London, but for a producer more used to enormous productions that go global, Betty Blue Eyes must feel small-scale. However, Mackintosh is a canny producer, not only for capitalising on our current austerity and impending Royal wedding, but in creating a show that can tour to any sized venue in Britain, filling gaps in Arts funding-cut theatres nationwide, and a production that can be played out in village halls for the next fifty years. PAUL RAVEN LINKS Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London More News on Betty Blue Eyes Betty Blue Eyes photos
The fine line between Previews and Reviews: Baz “Previews” Betty Blue Eyes
Baz Bamigboye's preview of Betty Blue Eyes raises questions over when is a preview actually an early review? [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Baz Bamigboye[/caption] As you may know from previous columns, we are in awe of Baz Bamigboye, the Daily Mail's veteran showbiz reporter. The Stage may have popped husband and wife double-act Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire of Ambassador Theatre Group at the top of their power 100 list for 2011, but really the honour should go to Baz, whose Friday column sets the agenda for theatre and film news for the week. But it's interesting that his piece this week about Betty Blue Eyes, Cameron Mackintosh's big new musical project which is in previews at the Novello Theatre, is dangerously close to a review: "Sarah Lancashire was a revelation to me as the snooty wife of Reece Shearsmith’s chiropodist. And Ann Emery, as ‘Mother Dear’, almost steals the production from everyone, including the pig." "Adrian Scarborough is terrific as Wormwold, the Nazi-esque food inspector." "Betty Blue Eyes could be the King’s Speech of London theatre. Because, frankly, it’s adorable." Baz sidesteps the strict protocol that exists between producers and critics that reviews should not be published until the official opening night of the production because he's at the sparkly showbiz end of arts journalism rather than the hardened, haven't-seen-daylight-since-1973 career critic. But should this be so? The hoo-hah over New York critics breaking ranks with producers to review Spider-Man on Broadway in previews, and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's fury with bloggers for previewing Love Never Dies before it's First Night, has brought the subject into focus more than ever. We love you Baz, and we love your scoops (which feed most theatre website's gossip pages, including this one) but is a scoop sometimes a puff piece masquerading as a review?   Paul Raven
Betty Blue Eyes opens bookings
Booking has opened for new Cameron Mackintosh musical Betty Blue Eyes, coming into the West End this Spring. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Stars of Betty Blue Eyes Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith[/caption] The new show, which is based on Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray's acclaimed screenplay A Private Function, has been penned by Mackintosh protégées George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics), with a book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman. Richard Eyre will direct the show, which previews from 19 March 2011 at the Novello Theatre. The musical is a move back to new work for the Les Miserables producer, whose recent projects have been revivals of hit shows such as Mary Poppins and Oliver!, or transfers of Broadway shows Avenue Q and Hair. "Betty Blue Eyes is my first original musical in over ten years”, said Mackintosh. “As a long-time admirer of Alan Bennett’s wickedly funny screenplay for the film A Private Function, I immediately fell in love with this infectious and delicious musical treatment which has expanded on the original”. The show will see Sarah Lancashire (Coronation Street, Seeing Red) as Joyce Chilvers, played in the 1984 movie by Maggie Smith. Lancashire will be returning to the West End after her brief appearance in Guys & Dolls in 2005. Her hen-pecked husband in the show, Gilbert, will be played by Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen). The story is set in a small Yorkshire village just after the Second World War. When the locals want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding of Elizabeth and Philip, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But social climber Joyce (Lancashire) and her down-trodden husband Gilbert (Shearsmith) plot a scheme of their own that throws the village into chaos. The show's opening will coincide with the forthcoming April marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Other casting includes Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance, Gavin & Stacey) as Wormold, David Bamber (My Night With Reg) as Swaby, Ann Emery (Billy Elliot) as Mother Dear, Jack Edwards as Allardyce and Mark Meadows as Lockwood. The story is set in a small Yorkshire village just after the Second World War. When the locals want to celebrate the forthcoming Royal wedding, post-war rationing prompts them to illegally raise a pig for the event. But social climber Joyce (Lancashire) and her down-trodden husband Gilbert (Shearsmith) plot a scheme of their own that throws the village into chaos. The show’s musical director is Richard Beadle, with musical staging by Stephen Mear, design by Tim Hatley, lighting by Neil Austin, sound by Mick Potter, musical supervision by Stephen Brooker and orchestrations by William David Brohn. Ahead of Betty Blue Eyes, director Richard Eyre will direct Tom Hollander in a new production of Feydeau's farce A Flea in her Ear at the Old Vic Theatre from 4 December. Onassis is currently playing at the Novello Theatre starring Robert Lindsay, and is currently booking until 8 January 2011. Read an interview with George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Interviews Two Minute Call">
Star Interview: Stiles & Drewe, composers of Just So and Betty Blue Eyes
"George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, this is your two minute call..."  Musical theatre writers Stiles & Drewe have penned music and lyrics to a number of successful shows including West End hit Mary Poppins, Honk!, Peter Pan, The Three Musketeers and The Card. On the eve of a new, 25th anniversary production of their first hit, JUST SO, they talk to about their love of Kipling, escape from the world of teaching, and big new Cameron Mackintosh musical Betty Blue Eyes. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Photo by Alastair Muir[/caption] What was your first professional project working together? It was JUST SO, our second musical, which had won the first ever Vivian Ellis Prize and was optioned by Cameron Mackintosh. Cameron then co-produced the show at the Watermill Theatre in May 1989, directed by Julia McKenzie and designed by Mark Thompson. If someone only sees one musical in their lifetime, what should it be? SWEENEY TODD changed our lives. It was seeing a small production of the show at The Drum in Plymouth in 1983 that inspired us to start writing together. It is the perfect blend of great music, lyrics and story. Declan Donellan’s production at the RNT in 1993, starring Julia McKenzie and Alun Armstrong, was sublime musical theatre. What’s your favourite West End theatre venue and why? Probably the Prince Edward Theatre. Not only has it been beautifully restored, but it is where MARY POPPINS resided for three years. Other happy memories there include the opening night of CHESS in 1986 as guests of Tim Rice, and attending CRAZY FOR YOU with our dear friend, the late and deeply-missed director Mike Ockrent. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Just So, at the Tabard Theatre[/caption] If you hadn’t chosen composing and lyric writing what would your chosen professions have been? Having graduated at Exeter University (George in Music, Ants in Zoology) we both had places at the University’s Post Graduate School of Education. So, if we hadn’t deferred our entry and started writing, we would probably have become Music and Biology teachers respectively. The Education system has a lot to be grateful for! What first led you to write a musical around Kipling’s Just So Stories? We had been reading another Kipling story, Rikki Tikki Tavi, to George’s young niece and nephew and something in the playful style of Kipling’s storytelling, and his ‘sing-song’ use of language, led us to re-examine some of his other books. Is it harder or easier for writers of musicals to get their work produced today? Getting a musical on has always been hard – there is so much to get right, and producers don’t like to take risks. The good news is the way in which the popularity of musicals seems to go from strength to strength, and regional theatres in both the UK and USA are starting to champion new shows. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Stars of Betty Blue Eyes, Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith, with producer Cameron Mackintosh (centre)[/caption] Tell us a secret about how you work together. George doesn’t like me to be in the same room when he is composing a song. He doesn’t mind me being within earshot, even in the next room! He usually starts away from the piano, reading my lyric through to find his own rhythm for it, before he approaches the piano. What’s your single most important piece of advice to budding musicals writers? Keep writing! Listen to everyone’s opinion, but don’t feel you have to agree with everything they say. Open yourself up to collaborate – putting on a musical is the ultimate example of teamwork. Don’t give up, we’ve been writing together for nearly 28 years of which it took the first 17 years before we felt we had arrived. Your next project is Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre. How did you come to adapt Alan Bennett and Malcolm Mowbray’s screenplay? We were approached by the two American bookwriters, Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman, who had watched the film and thought it would make a musical. By good fortune we were recommended to them as songwriters for the project by one of their old school friends, Stephen Schwartz. * * * * A brand new production of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's musical JUST SO, adapted from Rudyard Kipling's timeless Just So Stories and directed by Andrew Keates, runs at the Tabard Theatre in London from 1 December 2010 to 9 January 2011. Book tickets at Their new musical BETTY BLUE EYES, based on the award-winning film A Private Function, opens at the Novello Theatre from 19 March 2011 starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith and directed by Richard Eyre. LINKS Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London  
Cameron Mackintosh talks Betty Blue Eyes
Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh talked to Michael Ball today about his new musical project, Betty Blue Eyes. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Cameron Mackintosh on The Michael Ball Show"][/caption] Speaking on The Michael Ball Show on ITV1, Mackintosh revealed that it will be his next musical. The new show, which is written by Mackintosh protégés George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Mary Poppins, Just So), is based on Alan Bennett's screenplay A Private Function. The original 1984 film starred Michael Palin and Maggie Smith and is set in a small Northern town shortly after the war, when rations were still biting hard. A group of local businessmen plan to hold a patriotic party to celebrate the impending royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip, and decide to illegally raise a pig for the occasion. But hen-pecked chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers (Michael Palin) and his wife Joyce (Maggie Smith) have other plans... Late last year Mackintosh told the Daily Mail: "The title (of the show) is in honour of our lovely Queen. Well, they are both catalysts of the story. We have the marriage of Elizabeth and Philip - and our heroine, the pig, is Betty Blue Eyes. I haven't checked the Queen's eye colour recently, but they're rumoured to be blue." The musical is slated to begin rehearsals early next year, trying out at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before coming to the West End at Easter. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee begins the following year in 2012. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Gareth Gates sings on The Michael Ball Show"][/caption] Mackintosh also talked about the 25th anniversary celebrations planned for Les Miserables, and said that the show is, "doing better than it has for 15 years". He was at pains to emphasise that the new touring production had "new costumes, new sets and new direction" following a recent public spat with original directors of the musical Trevor Nunn and John Caird, who were not invited to work on the 25th anniversary tour, which will play its original home at the Barbican Theatre in September. Gareth Gates, who is starring in the touring production, joined Mackintosh on the show, to sing Empty Chairs At Empty Tables from Les Mis. Mackintosh also spoke to Michael Ball about the current resurgence in musical theatre: "Ten years ago if you said you were in the theatre you'd duck" he said, but now it's trendy, with people "fed up with just sitting looking at a computer". Despite popular TV talent shows, such as BBC1's Over The Rainbow, finding new a new generation of musicals stars, Mackintosh said that  "if you have a raw talent and you have a platform then you can make a career" but that few people have the staying power to make a career out of the theatre. Cameron Mackintosh, producer of some of the world's most successful shows including Miss Saigon, Cats, Mary Poppins and current West End musicals Oliver!, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q and Hair!, also revealed that his favourite musical of all time is My Fair Lady. LINKS Book tickets to Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre in London Book tickets to Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre, the O2 Arena and the Barbican Theatre Stiles and Drew official site Listen to a song from Betty Blue Eyes

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