Director: David Grindley
Writer: GeorgeBernard Shaw
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Tony award winner David Grindley directs the 100 year anniversary production of one of George Bernard Shaw’s most popular and enduring plays this week at Milton Keynes Theatre. Written in 1912, Pygmalion is full of Shaw’s caustic wit, satire and panache which is whyit is to this day one of his best loved pieces. That and the fact that it was fashioned so cleverly into the 1956 musical My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe and later the 1964 film of the same name, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. The play deals with bourgeois morality, language and gender and is cleverly studded with the Irish dramatist’s ideas about equality in society.
So the story goes that egotist, somewhat pompous and snobbish toff, Henry Higgins, seals a bet with his new pal, the likeable Colonel Pickering, that he can totally change both the speech and the manners of one Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower girl he meets in Covent Garden. He further states that he can make people believe she is a society lady. In this he succeeds but when the arrogant, insensitive Prof Higgins takes all the credit and omits to acknowledge Eliza’s hard work or even notice her, she angrily and very quickly leaves him. All of a sudden Higgins comes to the realisation that he’s grown used to her and can’t really live without her but too late.
Alistair McGowan as Henry Higgins, the opinionated phonetics professor, has real charm and does a fairly sound job particularly in his delivery of some of the acerbic one-liners, although he does not always appear to be completely in character. He gives plenty of energy to the rôle, however. His relationship with his side kick, the very amiable Colonel Pickering, works well. Paul Brightwell brings out the real humanity and likeability in this character and gives a totally credible performance.
Rachel Barry, a star in the ascendant, plays Eliza Doolittle and is very believable. She manages for the most part not to overdo the ‘cor blimey’ nor the upright lady of society. Her portrayal of the young girl who has come to understand that she was just part of an experiment is moving and has some poignant moments, although in true Shavian style the speech was certainly a lengthy one.
Rula Lenska has great stage presence, as ever, and gives us the wise and autocratic Mrs Higgins with real conviction. Charlotte Page in the part of the hyper efficient yet sensitive housekeeper Mrs Pearce is wonderful and utterly convincing. Jamie Forman as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s self-serving and conniving father, should get very special mention. His delivery of Shaw’s social message through his little truisms is excellent. He really brings out the humour in the piece well.
The rich set is simple but effective and clearly denotes both the period and the class. The costumes are delightful.
Grindley’s sharp direction definitely brought out Shaw’s commentary on social inequalities and makes for an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening’s entertainment.
Runs until Sat 31 May