Universally acknowledged as a showcase for Scottish musical theatre stars of the future, The Dance School of Scotland’s 2014 show Betty Blue Eyes doesn’t disappoint.
Based upon Alan Bennett’s screenplay for the 1984 film A Private Function, Ron Cowen, Daniel Lipman and composing team Stiles and Drewe’s musical tells the tale of Austerity Britain. It’s 1947 and rationing is still in place two years after the war has ended. Fed up with eating Spam, some less than scrupulous Yorkshire business men decide to secretly raise an unlicensed pig to feast upon at the town’s celebration of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Phillip Mountbatten. But into the mix comes mild-mannered chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers, his ambitious wife Joyce and Ministry of Food inspector Wormold and the best laid plans of the town’s great and good don’t quite go to plan.
The cast are, as usual, a knockout, in particular Mari McGinlay as Joyce, in possession of a stand-out voice, a pitch perfect accent and a finely nuanced acting performance, this is a young woman who, to all intents and purposes, is ready and set for the West End right now. As last year, Ryan Hunter turns in a magnetic performance as Dr. Swaby, he is a young man of immense talent and charisma which belie his years. Both can look forward to sparkling careers ahead. The ensemble are universally deserving of praise – maintaining focus and sharpness throughout as well as producing a full and rich sounding chorus.
The set is simple but effective and high praise must go to the puppet team who successfully bring Betty the pig to life. As someone who saw the 6 figure animatronic version in the West End it was with great interest I awaited Betty’s appearance – I’m happy to say she doesn’t disappoint.
Where the whole endeavour falls down (and indeed the reason for its short West End run) is not the actors or the set or the direction but with the piece itself. Though there are highlights throughout, it is missing that elusive sparkle that makes a show a hit and it ends on a bit of a damp squib. That said, it doesn’t detract from the first-rate performances of the young cast. I look forward to following their future careers.
A modern day musical theatre addict known simply as the ‘Man in Chair’ drops the needle on his favourite LP and from the crackle of his hi-fi, the uproariously funny 1928 musical magically bursts to life on stage. The “show within a show” tells the tale of a Broadway starlet’s wedding day and how it is complicated by a motley crew of zany guests, including a gin‑soaked chaperone assigned to keep a watchful eye over the bride.
It’s hard to believe that the cast of this highly accomplished show are aged 18 and under – any qualms about their ability to portray the vast array (and ages) of characters is dispelled the moment Ryan Hunter as Man in Chair takes to the stage, impeccable American accent in place and with a characterisation that would put more seasoned performers to shame, he takes us back to 1928 and into the tale of his favourite musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Hunter never leaves the stage for the entirety of the show (including the interval) and his focus never wavers throughout – the only pity is that it would have been nice to find out if his voice matched his considerable acting skills.
Stand out among the cast is Ronan Burns as Robert the starlet’s groom – with a pitch perfect golden age of Broadway voice and even sharper footwork, he is deserving of the title Young Scottish Musical Theatre Performer of the Year which he won against stiff competition (his leading lady being one of them). In true “”show must go on” style, principal Janet Van De Graff (Erin Hair) had lost her voice that morning and would act the part which would be sung from the pit by Morgan Harrison, a young woman whose voice on hearing is so stunning you would question the decision to have her hidden in the chorus in the first place. Credit must go to both actors who seamlessly accomplished this difficult feat.
The leads are ably supported by a cast of colourful characters chief among them Adolpho (Dylan Wood) milking all the laughs he could from the caricature comedy foreigner role.
If any criticism is to be levelled at all then it is with the musical itself – the plot starts off thin and only gets thinner and eventually ends up as a series of set pieces of uneven quality and style that are merely there to give everyone in the cast their moment in the spotlight – while this might be a great idea for a showcase it makes the storytelling rather uncohesive.
The Dance School of Scotland has an enviable reputation for producing the highest quality West End performers – indeed, many of the Scottish performers interviewed for this blog have passed through its doors. The show’s faults are minor in the scheme of things. This is a stunningly accomplished cast in a highly entertaining show and it’s a chance for the audience to say in years to come that you saw them here first.
The Citizens Theatre – Saturday 15th / Monday 17th – Wed 19th June
Tickets available from Citizens Theatre Box Office on 0141 429 0022