Writer: George Bernard Shaw
Director: Chris Line
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
In a year when there are a number of theatrical production marking the centenary of the First World War, there’s another 100 year anniversary that has perhaps gone unnoticed. Though written two years previously, 1914 saw the first performance of Pygmalion and while it has gone through various incarnations since, including being turned into the musical My Fair Lady, the script has lost none of its impact.
While social trends may have moved on since the Victorian England Shaw captured, themes of image, belonging and class stereotype still remain as prevalent today as when first written.
Bury Theatre Workshop’s production focuses squarely on the human impact; simple staging and direction draw us into the emotional impact of Higgins’ linguistic experiments. There’s more to social standing however than elocution and Eliza’s transformation from strangulated vowels to the embodiment of refinement also mirrors her growing confidence and ambition.
Chris Line’s direction also draws out the comedy in Bernard Shaw’s creations, playing with the social uncertainty of both Eliza and Higgins to great effect.
Erin Lacey’s Eliza provides the emotional anchor of the evening. It’s an assured performance that shifts from wailing flower girl to the embodiment of refinement perfectly. Lacey balances the uncertainty of the flower girl with a feisty independence.
As Eliza’s foil, Tim Lodge’s Henry Higgins is assured and less monstrous than other readings of the character. Yes, this Higgins is full of bravado and self-importance but, like his pupil there is also a sense of vulnerability.
There’s fine support from John Lintin’s Colonel Pickering, the very model of decorum and Sue Hodgson as Mrs Higgins but some of the other supporting characters fail to convince.
While opening night nerves may have played a part sadly, for a play centred around speech and diction, clarity and projection is sadly lacking.
There’s also a worrying lack of chemistry between the central characters. While Lacey and Lodge spar well as Eliza and Higgins, the performance seems to have been developed in isolation and it’s hard to connect the pair. The same came be said with Eliza’s burgeoning relationship with Freddy Eynsford Hill (an underplayed Mark Robinson).
Some attention to the flow between scene changes would reap benefits for pace but nothing that can’t easily be ironed out during the run.
The Covent Garden flower sellers may have long gone, but Eliza Doolittle still has the power to speak to modern audiences, perhaps that’s the best testament to the power of voice there is.
Runs until February 8