Review: Betty Blue Eyes at the Union Theatre

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Adapted from the popular 1984 British film ‘A Private Function’, Betty Blue Eyes debuted at the Novello Theatre in 2011 where it earned itself a number of Olivier nominations including Best New Musical. Twelve years later, with a backdrop of success, The Union Theatre and By the Sea Productions present their own version, writes Bella Christy… 

Director Sasha Regan crafted a production that sat along the lines of whimsical and melodramatic. Whilst set during a time of post-war austerity and dealing with sombre themes such as hunger and corruption, the production kept a light and humorous tone that had the audience giggling throughout.

A particularly chucklesome character is Mother Dear, who, at 74, is a right greedy grump. Jayne Ashley’s performance had me cackling with laughter, especially during the scene where she mistakenly believes that her daughter Joyce and son-in-law Gilbert are plotting her death. This scene sets the stage for the equally hilarious and a personal favourite number of mine, ‘Pig No Pig’, where Ashley’s vocals are allowed to showcase. 

At the beginning, I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around why all these women were lusting for the incredibly awkward and (I’m sorry, but) unsexy Gilbert Chilvers.

The number ‘Magic Fingers’, full of naughty innuendos, had me raising my eyebrows in confusion. These women couldn’t possibly be talking about the fumbling and nervous man in front of me. Though, upon reflecting on my history knowledge, I came to the realisation that there was a significant shortage of men following World War II, so the presentation of horny women was not at all inaccurate.

What is more, is that Gilbert undergoes some remarkable character development. His vulnerability grows in Act II, particularly during ‘The Kind of Man I Am’. The audience begins to understand his aspiration to be more self-assured as well as the love he holds for his wife. 

There were unfortunately a number of teething issues: a wrong lighting cue, a couple of stumbled lines and mid-show fire alarm, yet the actors on stage did not let this affect their performance, and you could perhaps argue that it added to the chaotic comedy of the show… 

The acting style had elements of both melodrama and slapstick comedy, which worked well to some extent, but I yearned for some more contrast. Particularly during the more serious scenes involving Joyce and Gilbert’s relationship issues, I did not feel emotionally invested.

There was no pulling on my heartstrings. Additionally, some of the ‘dramatic pauses’ did not create the intended impact and I was left hoping for more emotional weight.

All things considered, I enjoyed watching Betty Blue Eyes. The production was fun, light-hearted and silly, it had the audience smiling and laughing throughout.

Union Theatre, Arch 22 & 23 Old Union Yard  Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR until 22nd April.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Saturday Matinee 2.30pm. Admission: £25.



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