Writer: George Bernard Shaw
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Jack Trott
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion, Theatre Royal Bath Productions have revived this enduring classic with a star-studded and talented cast and taken it on a national tour of the UK.
Using established and well-known actors is, perhaps, needed to attract audiences as there can’t be many theatre goers left who haven’t seen one version or another of this play over the years though maybe there are a few younger audiences or newcomers it might appeal to.
David Grindley directs Alistair McGowan in the lead rôle of Professor Higgins. With household name Rula Lenska as Mrs. Higgins and Eastenders’ star Jamie Foreman as Alfred Doolittle they are joined by the relative newcomer, Rachel Barry, in the pivotal rôle of Eliza Doolittle.
MacGowan has all the poise, stature and voices undoubtedly needed for the professor and is equalled in presence by Paul Brightwell’s Colonel Pickering. However the director has seen enough foresight to subtly make sure none of the stars outshine Barry’s Eliza, as she brashly and ear-churningly takes centre stage and delightfully endears herself into the audience’s hearts, easily and perfectly making the transition in voice and eloquence from hard-edged, cockney, commoner to the final, show topping and faultless picture of a well-to-do young lady. The real stars of the show, though, are the supporting cast whose characterisations bring an added depth, with their expressions and intonations conveying all the unspoken sentiment needed.
No matter how good the acting nor how well-known the stars, it is a little disappointing this production brings nothing new to a well established and commonly performed piece of archetypal British theatre. If it wasn’t for the fact of being the 100th anniversary there seems little point in a revival apart from keeping Pygmalion and Bernard Shaw in the British psyche. If an audience is interested in seeing television stars on stage then it might be worthwhile for them to see the show and it as an enjoyable, superbly acted and well directed performance but for anyone else wishing to see a new take on the old story or a different interpretation then they would probably be underwhelmed. For fans of the musical version, My Fair Lady, who haven’t seen the original play and want to learn the depth and serious social commentary of Shaw’s story then this is, arguably, as good a performance as there has been for many a year and probably for a while to come.
Runs at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 8th March then continues on national tour.