by George Bernard Shaw.
Garrick Theatre Charing Cross Road WC2H 0HH to 3 September 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 1 September 2.30pm (Please call 0844 482 9677 for details).
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 9673.
Review: Mark Courtice 26 May.
They should have done the musical
In Philip Prowse’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s political romance you feel there is always a musical trying to get out. Bits of set appear from behind a proscenium arch upstage centre, twinkly lights make what Shaw thought was going to be St Paul’s Covent Garden look like Broadway, and the whole things ends with Here Comes The Bride.
The same archness and lack of subtlety also infects some of the performances; so the play opens with a scene of the sort of brittle acting that makes one feel like one’s strayed into something by Noel Coward by mistake. Rupert Everett misjudges things too. His Higgins is a glowering oafish child, which might be a legitimate reading if he could also get the charming, vital, social revolutionary that combines with the selfish monster. Higgins does not think of others, but he does think; he may be tiresome at parties, but people still want him to come.
With the Eynsford Hills behaving as if they have escaped from Private Lives, and Higgins from Look Back in Anger, it falls to the Doolittles to save the play. And to a large extent they do. Kara Tointon occasionally gives the impression some Higgins taught her the cockney, but she is good with Eliza’s determination and bravery, while her dawning engagement with ideas as opposed to just survival is made interesting and believable.
Michael Feast as her Dad, ripped from his entertaining existence as one of the "undeserving poor" and forced into middle-class respectability through some thoughtless meddling by Higgins, is cracking. This is how Shaw should be played, with energy, as fun, but also glorying in the challenging tussle with ideas about class, power and family duty.
Peter Eyre’s Colonel Pickering is interestingly equivocal; all the charm and courtesy in the world doesn’t disguise the fact he enters into a rather disgraceful bet. Diana Rigg’s Mrs Higgins is as intelligent as you would expect; she’s acerbic but with wit and charm; qualities the production as a whole could do with finding.
Henry Higgins: Rupert Everett.
Eliza Doolittle: Kara Tointon.
Alfred Doolittle: Michael Feast.
Mrs Higgins: Diana Rigg.
Colonel Pickering: Peter Eyre.
Mrs Eynsford Hill: Marty Cruickshank.
Clara Eynsford Hill: Helen Millar.
Freddy Eynsford Hill: Peter Sandys Clarke.
Mrs Pearce: Roberta Taylor.
Ensemble: Rebecca Birch, Stuart Bowman, Freya Dominic, Brendan Hooper.
Director/Designer: Philip Prowse.
Lighting: Gerry Jenkinson.
Voice coach: Penny Dyer.