by George Bernard Shaw.
Tour to 21 June 2014.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 May.
Revival only partly brings the play to life.
No doubt we should be grateful for any touring Shaw, but this Pygmalion is a curious affair. It has several firm performances, notably Rula Lenska as language expert Henry Higgins’ long-suffering mother, alongside reliable if somewhat neutral contributions from Paul Brightwell’s Colonel Pickering and Charlotte Page as the other woman putting up with Higgins’ social obtuseness, his housekeeper Mrs Pearce.
By contrast Alistair McGowan sets Higgins on a revisionist course, blowing away Edwardian cobwebs and creating a lively modern man in the quick fluency of facial expressions, surprise reactions, and a speed and informality of movement, both physical and vocal.
Some of the flavour of Shaw’s language is diminished in the process, but McGowan is always watchable and makes the character’s inconsiderate side the more clear, being played without the trappings of period style.
But the ones who do little for the production are the Doolittles. Rachel Barry makes something of the famous ‘at home’, crossing Mrs Higgins’ drawing-room with near-robotic stiffness to match her artificial pronunciation. And she is poignant as a natural uncertainty enters her posture and voice when she thinks she’s made a mistake, something which relaxes into relief and natural enthusiasm for family gossip.
But there’s much less conviction behind Eliza’s fury against Higgins. David Grindley’s production and McGowan’s expansive manner, talking to Pickering about Eliza while ignoring her presence, brings a clear humiliation and anger to her face, but the words spill-out with a blank uniformity of temper.
And Jamie Foreman makes little of the splendidly written Doolittle père. Again the speech is too uniform and lacking in shaping or subtlety.
Designer Jonathan Fensom places touring practicality and economy before amplitude, with grey panels towards the sides of the stage. Grindley introduces some neat moments – Eliza having to see-off a rival for the change Higgins throws at her in Covent Garden, and Freddy returning with a taxi, finding Covent Garden deserted apart from an approaching prostitute.
But such touches occur around the action; for once this director’s sure touch with character and the tone of a scene seems, if not missing, then in short supply.
Clara Eynsford-Hill: Anna O’Grady.
Mrs Eynsford-Hill: Jane Lambert.
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Lewis Collier.
Eliza Doolittle: Rachel Barry.
Colonel Pickering: Paul Brightwell.
Henry Higgins: Alistair McGowan.
Mrs Pearce: Charlotte Page.
Alfred Doolittle: Jamie Foreman.
Mrs Higgins: Rula Lenska.
Bystander/Parlour Maid/Prostitute: Katie Haygarth.
Bystander/Taxi Driver: Andrew McDonald.
Bystanders: Russell Layton, Joseph Sentence, Louise Templeton.
Director: David Grindley.
Designer/Costume: Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.