Writer: Alan Jay Lerner
Director: Andy Johnston
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
Southern Light Opera, has set itself a formidable task in taking on Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady. Not so much because of the challenge of the vocals (the irascible Henry Higgins, famously, need barely sing a note, though as rendered here by John Bruce he can and does), nor yet because of the intricacy of the choreography (though there are some impressive moves in evidence, under the auspices of choreographer Louise Williamson).
No, it’s the wide-brimmed-hat-topped shadow of the 1964 film which looms long over this particular musical, and makes it a bold choice for any director. Would anyone seriously seek to challenge Audrey Hepburn for her crown (or, rather, feathered Ascot chapeau) as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower-girl turned high society toast with the help of some rounded vowels? Or to wrest from Rex Harrison his “Best Actor” Oscar as her misogynistic mentor, phonetics professor Henry Higgins?
The audience which pours into Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre humming Wouldn’t it be Luverly? has been raised on George Cukor’s multi-award-winning adaptation, and they know every line, every note, every “Auuuuuw” and “Garn”. A fainter-hearted company would quail.
Southern Light Opera, though, refuse to be daunted, and they go a fair way to making this production their own. Rebekah Lansley as Eliza is sweet-voiced and funny – though when Professor Higgins has finished drilling her pronunciation, he should start in on her posture. Bruce as Higgins himself turns in a confident performance, and that in a role it’s increasingly difficult to make sympathetic in a post-#MeToo world. His repartee with his friend Colonel Pickering (Alan Hunter) doesn’t sparkle as it should, but he does a good indignant roar, and is brought out to great comic effect by Averyl Nash as his formidable mother.
Meanwhile Keith Kilgore in his flapping dustman’s hat steals a few scenes as Eliza’s scrounging father Alfred P. Doolittle, and leads the cast in some of their best ensemble numbers, With A Little Bit Of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time. In fact, as a rule, the company seems more comfortable playing costermongers than ladies and gents at Ascot and Embassy balls, and the street dances are especially lively and colourful, with some impressive acrobatics on show.
The production has its glitches. On opening night, at least, the cast still feel like they’re breaking in their microphones. A phonograph enunciating vowels starts up at random in the middle of a Covent Garden market scene; and even the streetlight outside 27A Wimpole Street goes strobe and distracts from Freddy Eynsford-Hill (David Bartholomew) serenading his beloved’s front door with On The Street Where You Live.
The comic timing is a little off in places, and there are definitely what feel like missed opportunities to extract more humour from the lyrics: surely a Scottish opera company playing a prime Edinburgh theatre can make more of Higgins’ carp at Scottish accents, “The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears?”
In the main, though, it’s well executed, with some positively professional performances in the lead roles in particular. The audience may not have Danced All Night – but there were definitely some snatches of song on the way to the taxis.
Runs until 9 March 2019 | Image: Contributed