Posted on 20 May 2011

TV favourite swaps the cobbles of Coronation Street for a talking pig on the West End stage at the Novello Theatre in Betty Blue Eyes.

Much-loved as ditzy Raquel Watts, née Wolstenhulme, in ITV soap Coronation Street from 1991 to 1996, Sarah Lancashire has since carved out a successful tv career in Where The Heart Is, Clocking Off and Rose and Maloney.  Lancashire took over the role of Miss Adelaide from Ally McBeal and 30 Rock actress Jane Krakowski in Guys and Dolls at the Donmar Warehouse for six weeks in 2005 before succumbing to a chest infection.  She is currently back in the West End wowing audiences with a well-received turn as Joyce Chilvers in new Cameron Mackintosh/Richard Eyre comedy musical Betty Blue Eyes at the Novello Theatre

The show is a musical adaptation of the 1984 film A Private Function and Sarah Lancashire plays the role made famous by Maggie Smith.  Speaking to she says that being Northern herself helped her portrayal of the character without having to echo Smith's original.  "I remember being at drama school when the film came out and being so taken with it that I went and bought a copy of the screenplay" she reveals, explaining " there is a certain rhythm of Northern speech that is very comical: that combination of the choice of language and the speech rhythm, which in itself is very funny. There is also a working-class aspiration which is very common to areas in the north; my grandmother on my father’s side was Joyce!" 

The play is set to the backdrop of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's royal wedding and tells the tale of Betty, a pig being illegally fattened for a lavish banquet for dignitaries to celebrate the occasion, whilst the local yokels have to make do with Spam.  In the production an animatronic pig is used, voiced by age-defying Australian popstar Kylie Minogue.  The show was also performed on the night of the recent Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton and Lancashire confirms that the atmosphere was particularly special that night.  "We knew that particular performance was going to resonate with the audience, and we gave it our all!

Lancashire particularly revels in her unexpected first act showstopper "Nobody".  She starts the play inauspiciously, as a the wife of a mild-mannered Yorkshire chiropodist, but her dogged social aspirations become very clear when seemingly out of nowhere she bursts into a showy fantasy-based song about what she really wants out of life.  "What I love is hearing the audience react!  Joyce is dressed simply, adhering closely to the look of the period, and suddenly the top dress comes off very, very quickly and you see the “reveal”: beautiful black sequins rolled up under what I’ve been wearing."  The audience-pleaser often results in rapturous applause at the end of the song.  Lancashire says the all-singing and dancing show is right up her street and finds it a refreshing change to all the "jukebox musicals" based around the hits of a group or artist that have become the safe choice for producers these days.  "This feels as if we’ve gone back to basics, to the sort of stuff I would hear as a child on Saturday morning at 10am when there was always a Hollywood musical on TV and the family would get up and I’d sit there in my nightie watching Ann Miller. I love that world!"

The show has been well-received by critics and is certainly the only show following the plight of a plucky talking pig that we are aware of in London at the moment!

Book Betty Blue Eyes tickets online now.

[posted by James, 20/05/2011]