This was a highly entertaining production of George Bernard Shaw’s classic play.
It is the turn of the 20th century and in a newly industrialised England class barriers are breaking down.
Eliza Dolittle- an aspirational young flower girl with no money and unintelligible speech- sees a chance to escape the destiny of her birth. Language lessons from the wealthy linguistics professor Henry Higgins seem like just the ticket. But a ticket to what?
Deborah Mulhall’s production embraces the aesthetics of Steampunk to explore subjects of class division snd social mobility in a world where people worth is judged not by who they are but by the way they speak.
Though the sparkling wit satirises the stifling nature of Edwardian society, profound parallels can also be drawn to our own society.
For all its profundity PYGMALION is a .richly comic play. The scene where Eliza meets the Professor’s mother for the first time is hysterical with Eliza’s constant refrain ‘how do you do?’ echoing with laughter from the audience. It is in the league of another of Eliza’s pet sayings ‘I’m a good girl, I am.’
Mulhall keeps the action coming at a fast pace right from the start of the show with the flower girls ‘outside Covent Garden and in the pouring rain’ interacting with audience members, trying to sell some of their roses from their baskets..
Mulhall wins good performances from her cast.
Emma Wright makes for a great Eliza Dolittle, the working class flower girl who has aspirations for making a better life for herself. She is very convincing in the many changes which Eliza goes through during the play.
Steve Corner gives a strong performance as the very erudite but lacking in emotional maturity Professor Henry Higgins. He is forever on his guard not to get involved with Eliza in any way. Corner’s performance reveals the strengths, he is a powerhouse in regards to his phonetics tuition, and weaknesses of his character.
Shan-Ree Tan plays Colonel Pickering, a gentleman, colonel and academic who makes the bet with Professor Higgins that sees him decide to tutor Eliza. He is a more sympathetic figure than Higgins and is kinder and more respectful to Eliza. Shan-Ree reveals his character’s intelligence and sensitivity.
Colleen Cook shines playing a strong woman, Mrs Higgins, the Professor’s mother who knows her son only too well. She is critical of the way that he and the Colonel are treating Eliza, ‘It’s like two grown men playing with a live doll’. She sees her son as being reckless and irresponsible.
Tiffany Hoy impresses as the cynical, intelligent Clara Eynsford Hill. Hoy depicts the down to earth nature of her character. Clara is a little dismissive of all the rules, manners and conventions of high society. She is supportive of Eliza when Eliza starts prattling away at Professor Higgins mother’s place, and tells Mrs Higgins that this is an example of the new kind of small talk.
Robert Snars is good as Clara’s good natured brother Freddy who falls for Eliza and wants to marry her. He offers a new life for Eliza after her time with Professor Higgins.
Mark Norton is something of a dark presence as Alfred Dolittle Eliza’s creepy, untrustworthy father. His strongest scenes come after interval when he has come into some money and feels quite conflicted about now being part of the middle class.
Natasha McDonald makes a strong impression as Professor Higgins tetchy, very proper housemaid Mrs Pearce who is protective of Eliza. McDonald gives a very physical performance wth a tall, imposing presence and .a distinctive way of talking.
Tricia Youlden impresses in the part of the haughty Mrs Eynsford Hill, a friend of Mrs. Higgins. Mrs. Hill first appears as the anonymous mother in Act One. Her family is wealthy, but not exceedingly upper-class. She is very concerned with social propriety, and is a bit scandalised later when Eliza talks inappropriately at Mrs. Higgins’ house.
Lisa Kelly plays Mrs Higgins housemaid whose main duty is to announces visitors/guests to the house.
As well as being assistant stage managers, Vitas Varnas plays Eric the Bystander, Emilia Kriketos plays Sadie the Bystander and Sean Taylor plays Willem the sarcastic Bystander.
As well as directing Deborah Mulhall did the costume design which was very impressive in its range of attire.
Tom Bannerman’s interesting stage design is a tin pressed silhouette of a library instead of a warm and solid wood lined bookcase. The staircase has been replaced by a steel ramp. Remnants of the traditional are presented as modern and technological.
Recommended, PYGMALION is playing the New Theatre, 403 King Street, Newtown until the 25th May, 2019.
Featured image – Steve Corner and Colleen Cookin ‘Pygmalion’ at the New Theatre. Production photograohy by Bob Seary.