Writer: Kevin Fearon
Director: Chris Mellor
Reviewer: John Roberts
On paper, the premise of My Fairfield Lady is a good one, a localised spin on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion should sit perfectly at home at The Royal Court. However, Kevin Fearon and Chris Mellor have created a muddled piece of theatre that lacks distinction and depth.
Kevin Fearon in his attempt to find a way to adapt the story succeeds in some parts, the idea that the lead character should go from a wealthy background to a more “common” class certainly puts a more localised feel to proceedings and it does offer some genuinely funny moments, but they are few and far between.
In an attempt to give the show some depth, Fearon tries to add in sub-plots of cancer and dementia into proceedings, however, these delicate subjects are treated in such an off-the-cuff way that it almost feels disrespectful to even include them, neither are given the room to be developed in their own way and their clumsy inclusion into the plot almost seems offensive to the very themes it wants to highlight.
Making his Royal Court debut is local director Chris Mellor, who has also been announced at this year’s director for the Court’s Christmas show, but that might not have been the best decision. Mellor fails to find the genuine humour that is clearly lying somewhere in My Fairfield Lady, instead we are left with scenes where characters aimlessly move around the stage to fill time or to give their characters something to do on stage, the result is often painful to watch and makes the two-hour running time feel closer to three.
The cast do a good job considering the material they are given to work with, Helen Carter is strong as loud-mouth but caring Steph, and Danny O’Brien gives a steady performance as Higson McDermott, but this production is really Jessica Dyas’ moment to shine and she produces a strong and captivation performance, it’s just a shame that the material lets her down. The same must be said for Michael Starke who is woefully under-used in a part that really gives him little to dig his teeth into, similarly Julie Glover as the cancer-stricken mother Mary McDermott struggles to bring any level of gravitas to the role as the character pushes towards her passing.
The show, however, is given one element that really strikes the right chord, Olivia du Monceau’s revolving set, brings a modern edge to set design that really does strike the right chords.
The Royal Court has over the years produced shows that find the balance between serious issues and localised comedy brilliantly – Yellow Breck Road being a recent example, so it’s a shame that a show such as My Fairfield Lady fails to deliver both the comic hits that the court audiences desire and the punch that really gets you talking about a show long after curtain call.
Runs until 25 May 2019 | Image: Activate Digital.