by George Bernard Shaw.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 19 June 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 12 June 4pm.
BSL Signed 15 June.
Post-show Discussion 10 June.
Runs 2ht 35in One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 May.

Triumph of the Doolittles.
With this staging in the Round, and a thrust-stage revival to follow in July at Chichester, Shaw’s famous play is having a metamorphic year. After the opening rain-storm scene, which director Greg Hersov navigates by ignoring all scenic demands, his production settles down into the bachelor comfort of Higgins’ home and the more sociable arrangements at his mother’s house.

It’s a production with plenty of reliable ingredients, from the shallow Eynsford Hills, where only the mother’s experience of being poor in society provides any measure of consideration, to the equally thoughtless, far more intellectual attitude of speech-expert Henry Higgins. Someone with the formers’ sense of society and the latter’s intelligence would be truly well-balanced.

Closest comes Higgins’ new-found acquaintance Colonel Pickering (a forcefully dependable Terence Wilton). Yet even he can forget about Eliza, the flower-girl who gives everything to advance herself from street-seller to florist’s assistant, and who finds herself the subject of a bet between the two men as to whether Higgins can train her to speak like a duchess.

There are generally good performances, including Gaye Brown as an understanding mother – Henry’s inability to see beyond her to qualities in other women is symptomatic of his personality’s imbalance – and Sue Wallace as the practical housekeeper Mrs Pearce.

If only Simon Robson, a highly capable actor, had not gone for such a mannered approach. An alternative to the usual frigid intellectual haughteur is doubtless valuable, but the emphatic vocal urgency is at odds with Higgins’ brisk masculinity and suggests an emotional investment in ideas that is hardly compatible with his no-nonsense manner.

It’s the working-class what gives this show its sheen. Cush Jumbo’s Eliza has dignity within her opening cacophony of vowels, in her ladylike sociability during Mrs Higgins’ at-home and in her stance with Higgins, deflecting his arguments and assumptions with intelligent assertion. And Ian Bartholomew makes sure her father’s no mere comic turn. Listening and reacting with an independent mind, the original thoughts always seeming fresh-minted, articulating his own moral scale of values as a law of nature, it’s clear where his daughter’s dignity and strength originated.

Clara Eynsford Hill: Harriet Barrow.
Mrs Eynsford Hill: Julia Hills.
Bystander: Ray Macallan.
Freddy Eynsford Hill: Howard Hutt.
Eliza Doolittle: Cush Jumbo.
Colonel Puckering: Terence Wilton.
Henry Higgins: Simon Robson.
Mrs Pearce: Sue Wallace.
Alfred Doolittle: Ian Bartholomew.
Mrs Higgins: Gaye Brown.
Parlour Maid: Sophie Gajewicz.

Director: Greg Hersov.
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Voice coach: Jan Haydn Rowles.

2010-05-23 18:07:28

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