I have never seen Pygmalion before, in fact, I’ve not even seen the film adaptation My Fair Lady. (As an Audrey Hepburn fan, I should be ashamed of myself.) So I came to this performance knowing only that it’s about the posh makeover of a heavily Cockney-accented flower girl. But, it seems, it is so much more than that. It’s about class, and social equality and independence, all packed into a very entertaining couple of hours.
The staging of this production is quite striking. The imposing block of a doorway takes centre stage in the first act, where we meet our cast, sheltering from an unexpected downpour. This doorway is efficiently shifted to one side to reveal Professor Higgins’ (Alistair McGowan) rather dim, yet cosy, study for Act 2, and finally moved to the other side of the stage to invite us into Mrs Higgins’ (Rula Lenska) much brighter and beautifully furnished drawing room in Act 3.
That’s not to say the set-design distracted me from the performances, of course. Rachel Barry plays Eliza Doolittle beautifully – her squawky, feisty, flower-girl transformed into an awkward but well-spoken young lady, with not quite the correct grammar, or indeed conversational topics, in the tea party scene. Rula Lenska’s performance as Professor Higgins’ mother is poised and brings some control and an almost regal calm to the sometimes chaotic scenes. However, chaos reigns, with a superbly comical star performance from Alistair McGowan, playing Higgins as someone who appears to be used to getting what he wants, and doesn’t seem to have grown up. McGowan’s mannerisms – ear-picking, pocket-fiddling and hand-flapping, notably – all add to his character’s boyish, but ultimately rather vulgar, charm. Paul Brightwell’s Colonel Pickering provides a beautifully mannered foil to McGowan’s madcap Professor, and the two complement each other well.
I have to say, though, it is Jamie Foreman who steals the show, for me. His performance as the rather eccentric Alfred Doolittle is brilliant; spouting his ‘original’ morals, and despising his unexpected rise to the middle classes.
Overall, I found this performance very entertaining; Shaw’s sharp writing shines through and is brought to life with an energetic enthusiasm by the cast. That’s not to say there isn’t a strong message to be taken from it all though – what is to become of Eliza now that she has the speech and manners of a Lady? And who is Higgins to think he can perform this kind of social experiment on anybody, and fail to consider the consequences to their feelings, and indeed, their future?