Based on the film “A Private Function”, the story by Alan Bennett is set in Shepardsford, Yorkshire in 1947. The war is over but, like the rest of the country, it still bears the scars of recent war. Belts are tightened and citizens are told by the Government that there will be a ‘fair share for all’ in return for surviving Austerity Britain. The only bright spark of hope on the horizon is the impending marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. We follow the lives of Gilbert & Joyce Chilvers, a Chiropodist and his not to be reckoned with wife. Gilbert inadvertently stumbles across a pig named Betty, who is being illegally reared to ensure the local dignitaries can celebrate the Royal Wedding with a lavish banquet. It leads to a kidnapping of the pig, whilst the sinister Mr Wormold – the Ministry of Food Inspector – tracks Betty down.
This was probably been our most challenging show in the past 20 years to bring to the stage. Casting the show took several weeks longer than normal as the show has a larger number of male parts than we normally cast and we welcome all our new WAOS members to the family. Whilst we were able to book and hold ‘in-person’ rehearsals as many Covid restrictions were lifted, Covid never-the-less took a massive toll on pretty much all cast, Director, MD and Assistant Director throughout the rehearsal period. The Rehearsal schedule had to be changed almost every week to factor in who was available at the time. Both Director and MD had other events re-scheduled due to Covid, which meant a massive load was placed on Emma, our assistant Director to cover - and many thanks to David Mitchell, Phil Toms and others who stepped in as rehearsal accompanists to keep the music flowing. The props on this show were quite specialist and numerous and have been supplied through many sources. Special thanks go to the Mercury Theatre for Betty the Pig and CAODS for helping fill the gaps.
I was warmly welcomed at front of house and was able to talk with Director and Choreographer Claire Carr in the interval. The society are celebrating their centenary year in 2022 and this production was a challenging choice to showcase their many talents. There was lots of humour and some rather eccentric characters, all maintaining their Yorkshire accents throughout ! The set, brilliantly designed by Claire Carr, Director, depicted a rather grey and austere town, including a shopping parade, in post war Yorkshire. There were multiple entrances and exits and a beautiful stained glass window at the back of the set. The changes in scenes were skilfully achieved by the use of a myriad of props including a pig sty!
The show opened with a rousing and colourful company number, “Fair Shares For All”.
Matt Bacon, as Gilbert Chilvers, the new mild mannered chiropodist in town, with his socially ambitious wife Joyce, played by Aimee Hart, were central characters to the plot. They were well paired, had excellent character interpretations and strong voices. Mother Dear, superbly played by Fiona Bocking, was a dear, slightly “batty” old lady, hilarious in “Pig, No Pig” with Gilbert and Joyce. Gilbert's lady patients, Mrs Roach ( Amy Pryce), Mrs Lester ( Megan Abbott) and Mrs Turnbull (Tracey Hackett ) performed their roles really well in “Magic Fingers”.
There was an impressive group of local dignitaries, all with fabulous voices, comprising Dr Swaby, played by Stewart Adkins, as the leader of the council, Henry Allardyce, an accountant, played by David Slater and Francis Lockwood, a solicitor, played by Dannii Carr. All excellent characters.......
The meat Inspector Wormold ,played with great skill and strength by Ian Gilbert, was a hybrid character , essentially quite evil and scheming, with pseudo Nazi and panto villain tendencies.
Two butchers, Nuttall, (Matt Waldie) and Metcalfe, (Richard Herring), were essential to the plot as was Sutcliffe, the farmer ( Ben Rolfe ) all played true to character. I must mention the butcher's wife, Mrs Metcalf (Maeve Borges) , trying hard to tempt the chiropodist with her “sexy” and lusty poses and Mrs Allardyce ( Carole Hart) with daughter Veronica ( Poppy Borges-Wilby) in tow, bringing additional humour to the show.
A first class evening, greatly appreciated and enjoyed by the audience.
Hazel Hole, MBE
Having seen this musical a few years ago I was, at that time, really not impressed, so it was with great joy that this time around I saw a really fresh, joyous, funny musical with a huge, enthusiastic cast, who gave us a wonderful evening of entertainment.
The NODA award winning director Clare Carr gave us a really excellent, well thought out production. With an open setting, using set pieces for the scene changes, the show never flagged and even when there were large changes by the cast themselves, they were well drilled and controlled so that it all seemed seamless. Musical Director Susannah Edom and her orchestra enhanced the show with the bright tunes which summed up the period, never overshadowing the singers on the stage.
Hero of the show was the downtrodden chiropodist, Gilbert Chilvers, played by Matt Bacon. He showed us the kind gentle man he was with a terrific singing voice. His strident dominant wife Joyce, was played with powerful conviction by Aimee Hart. What a pairing this was. A true delight to see the pair of them, work so well with each other. I loved the scene too where she sung 'Nobody' with the fantastic ensemble and was changed behind the feathered fans, into an evening dress.
Singing Magic Fingers were the trio were Mrs Roach, Mrs Turnball and Mrs Lester. (Amy Pryce, Tracy Hackett and Megan Abbott) This was beautifully portrayed with lovely harmonies.
The fabulous conniving trio of Dr James Swaby, Henry Allardyce and Francis Lockwood (Stewart Atkins, David Slater and Dannii Carr) were so much fun on stage. The three singing 'A Private Function was truly special; while Allardyce and Gilbert sang 'Betty Blue Eyes' with such love for the pig.. Well done gentlemen for bringing such humour to the show. As for the toilet scene, this was very English humour and had the audience in stitches.
Mother Dear (Fiona Bocking) was delightful; she played the role with excellent humour and a very funny performance which all of the audience loved. Good facial expressions and body language, this was truly a role for a mature performer to grab.
The villain of the piece is Inspector Wormold (Ian Gilbert) Dressed in a long black leather coat and black hat, typical of the Gestapo. He was wonderfully over the top and played the role as a pantomime villain to perfection, with excellent stage presence. Entering in green light and taking great glee painting the meat green so it could not be eaten, he commanded the stage. I felt like booing him every time he entered.
Betty Blue Eyes was obviously the star of the show and was operated well by Alice Mason. The trick when you operate a puppet is not to look at the audience but to become one with the creature. This she did and I totally believed in Betty on stage.
This was a super show, excellently directed by Claire and her assistant Emma Loring which brought laughter and happiness to the audience, who left the theatre having loved every moment. Huge congratulations to all.
As we dust off the bunting and the union flags for the upcoming Platinum Jubilee, this charmingly nostalgic show takes us back to the post-war Royal Wedding of 1947. Austerity reigned, and rationing was still a part of everyone’s life. And thereby hangs a [curly] tale …
Alan Bennett’s screenplay [A Private Function] provides basis of the plot, in which kindly chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers, engagingly played and impressively sung by Matt Bacon, is encouraged by his social climbing wife to rise to the top of the local beau monde. Aimee Hart channels Lady Macbeth [“… do all that may become a man …”]and excels vocally in her big numbers.
An excellent pairing at the heart of the show. But much of the fun is to be found in the large supporting cast. Almost everyone gets a character role. Maeve Borges gives us a deliciously flighty Mrs Metcalf, wife to one of several butchers. Fiona Bocking is the brilliantly batty mother-in-law. And there’s a strong trio of worthies from Stewart Adkins, David Slater and Dannii Carr, great in the pub and the gents, and joined by farmer Ben Rolph for a splendid rendition of A Private Function. Slater’s pig-fancier Allardyce pairs perfectly with Chilvers in a vaudeville duet for the title number.
As the real pantomime villain of the piece, Ian Gilbert doesn’t quite manage the “deep manly baritone”, but brings a touch of Weill and Weimar to Meat Inspector Wormold, manically wielding his green paintbrush and popping his consonants.
Let’s not forget the pig herself – cute and lovable despite her gastric distress. The third time I think that I’ve seen this Betty, handled on this occasion by Alison Mason. Lovely to combine her final bow with a snatch of song, too.
Musically, the period pastiches work best, Susannah Edom’s plucky pit band on fine form in Ill Wind and the superb Lionheart scene.
As always, we received a warm welcome with excellent seats affording us a clear view of the stage, and coffee and biscuits at the interval, which was much appreciated. The programme was excellent; it was very colourfully designed and produced, and was full of information. It was great to see an almost full house at the Thursday performance we attended, with an atmosphere full of anticipation.
The cast were assured and confident. There was a great company feel to the production, and the northern accents were, on the whole. well managed and not overdone.
In the leading roles of Joyce and Gilbert Chilvers, Aimee Hart and Matt Bacon were perfectly cast. Aimee was a triple threat; acting, singing and dancing to a very high standard. She captured Joyce’s snobbishness and frustration very ably but she was also sympathetic (particularly in the flash back), and really showed why Gilbert loved her, despite being hen-pecked by her. Aimee looked fabulous, and she had great comedy timing too! A superb performance! Matt had the more understated role of the put upon husband and son-in law, Gilbert. His performance complemented Aimee’s exactly. His facial expressions, accent and diffident manner all seemed authentic and believable. Matt had a strong singing voice and combined comedy and pathos in his performance, particularly in his hapless dealings with pig-napped Betty! Very well done!
The hilarious role of Mother Dear is the biggest I have seen Fiona Bocking perform; she was delightful in the part created so memorably by Liz Smith. In the musical, it seems clearer that Joyce is obviously a chip off the old block! Mother’s constant search for food, and the increased confusion over the Pig, were very funny indeed, with her involvement in the “Pig, no Pig” number being a highlight of the show! Well done Fiona!
The always reliable and impressive Stewart Adkins was everything the over-bearing and conniving Dr. Swaby needed to be. He was a dominant character (reminding us a bit of Fred Elliott from Coronation Street) with strong vocals and good comic acting and reactions. Stewart also worked very well with his two partners in crime!
The talented and highly experienced David Slater was a joy as Henry Allardyce , the most sympathetic of three conspirators, whose love for Betty the Pig, bordered on the weird, it has to be said! Kindly and genial, Henry was always trying to stand up to Swaby and found a kindred spirit in Gilbert; their performance of the title number was a delight. Very well done! Being younger, Danni Carr made Lockwood a contrasting character to Swaby and Allardyce, and although the part was less well drawn than the other two, Danni sang and acted with naturalness and believability, making his mark as a town big wig!
Ian Gilbert was outstanding as the Meat Inspector, Mr. Wormold. An even more outrageous character than in the film, Ian went about his dastardly deeds clad in black leather and terrifying everyone in a manner that reminded me of the Child Catcher in “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang”! This larger than life portrayal was a mixture of menace and camp; it was a performance that threatened to go over the top but never did! Ian had very strong vocal and movement skills and was very funny indeed! A smashing performance!
Matt Waldie, Richard Herring, Joe Geddis, Ben Rolph, and Trevor Drury as various local butchers, a farmer and a policeman, created believable northern characters who were crucial to the story and were authentic in their attitudes and behaviour, reflecting the fabric of the town and the period setting.
Amy Pryce, Robyn Gowers, Megan Abbott and Tracey Hackett all made their mark as various formidable ladies of the town, with each one out for herself, and wallowing in Gilbert’s “Magic Fingers”. We also liked the fact that each lady was very different to the others! Megan also shone as a lookalike Princess Elizabeth, escorted by Steve Rogers as a debonair Prince Philip. Maeve Borges was very funny when attempting to “vamp” Gilbert, but then showing her tough side when attempting to dupe Wormold. Carole Hart was suitably overdressed and superior in her manner as Mrs. Allardyce, whilst Poppy Borges-Willby was equally ghastly as her precocious school girl daughter, Veronica.
Betty the Pig, around whom all the action centred, was beautifully handled by Alice Mason, who created a really lovable character. We forgot Betty was a puppet as Alice’s own personality brought her to life, with expressive movement and facial reactions. Well done!
Other small roles were nicely done by Celia Greaves, Elizabeth Chapman, Gary Rolph, and Ron Howe, with Anita Goold, Annette Maguire and Jodie Morris completing a strong ensemble.
Special mention must be made of the brilliant dancers and trios: Julie Slater, Katie Galley, Robyn Gowers, Rachel Ings, Kathryn Nichols,and Amy Pryce who shone in everything they did, very well done to you all!
Andrew Hodgson and Sheila Foster
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