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REVIEW: Class war farce hits the right notes

The cast of Betty Blue Eyes
The cast of Betty Blue Eyes

Betty Blue Eyes

By Act II

South Holland Centre, Spalding

What can I say aboutAct II that hasn’t already been said? Their policy of inclusion and fairness sees different youngsters taking leading roles every time and yet the standards they reach always amaze me.

When I saw this musical was based on an Alan Bennettscreenplay I expected plenty of laughs and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Set in 1947 post-war England, this northern tale is a class divide farce centring around Gilbert and Joyce Chilvers, a working class couple aspiring for better things.

Gilbert, played by Jack Wheatley, is a chiropidist, loved by the ladies of Sheperdsford for his magic hands but looked down on by the snooty members of the town council.

When the Chilvers couple receive the double blow of not being invited to a posh Royal Wedding celebration in the town and Gilbert’s application to open a clinic is turned down, the mild mannered foot doctor has had enough.

He steals the pig that the town council have been illegally rearing for the feast... and chaos ensues.

All sorts of shenanigans then take place, but we enjoy a happy ending, with the Chilvers’ finally moving up in the world and the pig – Betty Blue Eyes – ensconced in the bed of smitten town councillor Allardyce!

I’ve not come across Jack Wheatley before but he put in a superb, flawless performance as Gilbert Chilvers.

His comic timing, facial expressions and demeanour were wonderful and he doesn’t possess a bad singing voice either – he really is one to watch.

Singing is where the audience do have to sometimes make allowances with Act II’s youngsters – we’re not all blessed with great voices and it’s an art learned over time – but leading lady Alex Gilman, as Joyce Chilvers, also hit all the right notes.

Her portrayal as a loving yet frustrated wife was spot on. This musical was over two hours long and she was involved in most of it but never dropped her guard in an exemplary performance.

What I’ve often said about Act II is that the performances are so good that you forget you’re watching kids. This has never been truer than in this show with the performance of Maja Platek as Joyce’s 74-year-old ‘Mother Dear’.

Before our eyes she really did become a crotchety old woman and showed her own capable singing voice in the second half of the show with ‘Pig No Pig’ during the hilarious kitchen scene.

Two other youngsters who really caught the eye were Andrew Lucas as Allardyce and Max Szydlowski as Inspector Wormold. Maxseemed to really enjoy his role searching for illicit meat and his little song as he painted the meat green to mark it against human consumption was hilarious.

Andrew had to fall in love with a pig which is not the easiest thing to portray on stage but he did so with aplomb, mixing comedy with sensitivity .

I enjoyed Freya Theed’s performance in ‘Made in Dagenham – The Musical’ 19 months ago.But whereas then she played the female lead, this time she played one of the principal males and her showing as town councillor and GP Swaby was really good.

Fellow, dour, serious town councillor and solicitor Lockwood was played by Eloise Wooding and although her character was not there for belly laughs she played it with all the snobbery and coldness required.

Of the other main actors, Freya Perkins as PC Noble, Alex Lord as Mrs Allardyce and Molly Charleston-Stokes as Veronicaall played their parts well.

There were over 40 other young actors singing, dancing and playing smaller roles and none of them disappointed.

The songs were catchy, the band superb and six months of hard work came to fruition because everyone played their part. Now I cannot wait until they tackle Bonnie and Clyde in July.

• The show continues tonight (Friday) and there are matinee and evening shows tomorrow (Saturday).Box offfice: 01775 764777

Jeremy Ransome

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