Review by: Paul Towers, 22 March 2017
Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
A Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatre & West Yorshire co-production
Curve 21 – 25 March 2017
"‘a reimagined director’s cut’ of a standard"
When George Bernard Shaw (notice the correct name of the author) wrote Pygmalion in 1912 it was an immediate hit and has been regularly performed in the ensuing 100+ years including a 1938 film and the iconic 1964 musical, My Fair Lady.
This version, ‘a reimagined director’s cut’ updates it, according to the programme, to modern day Britain in a suitably futuristic set.
As we walked into the auditorium we were confronted with what looked like a builder’s demolition site hoarding with an observation slit at eye level. Playing over this was a litany of vocal exercise sounds which, I guess, were supposed to prepare us for the storyline of vocal alteration.
Suddenly the cast appeared in front of the set and started to lip sync to recorded dialogue like a rather bizarre version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. To compound the confusion the various characters changed accents and even genders. It was rather like a dodgy Victorian séance.
Fortunately this bewilderment soon passed as the real story began, Eliza was accosted by Henry Higgins and Col Pickering, played by Alex Beckett and Raphael Sowole, outside a flower market and coerced into being the linguistic plaything of phonetics fanatic Higgins.
So far so good, if you ignore the muddle of the miming opening.
Once the trio make it to the Professor’s workroom (looking eerily like What The Butler Saw’s circular antiseptic set) it all becomes wearily self indulgent as a wide array of electronic devices are used to amuse Higgins. Rather like a first year student let loose in a sound lab with an auto tuner and a synthesiser, this is all just too self congratulatory to be interesting.
All through the first half they kept returning to their electronic toys and it was very boring.
The second half was much better as, aside from a minor piece of technological fiddling, gimmicks were abandoned as Higgins had to try and deal with the repercussions of his transformation of Eliza
I can understand that a piece of theatre that is over 100 years old can be updated and modernised but it is just a mess when you only do half a job. This production is supposedly set in modern times and yet they still refer to pennies and pounds, Eliza is sold for £5. The film of Eliza getting a cab to Walpole Street clearly shows a fare of modern day extravagance. And what on earth is Liza doing speaking in a broad Northern accent? Her father is a cockney, she is a cockney flower seller not a Northern slattern. Her accent was less believable than Audrey Hepburn’s, or even Dick Van Dyke’s.
Then of course, there are questions about the actual production that are left unanswered. Why was Mrs Higgins’ drawing room in a glass box? Why did they take off their head mikes halfway through the final scene?
Pygmalion runs at Curve until Saturday 25 March
Full details at www.curveonline.co.uk
First published in Western Gazette