Review by Peter McGarry

Peter McGarry is an experienced, independent professional theatre critic who has agreed to review Talisman Theatre productions.
Peter is free to express his opinions for good or ill. The Talisman Theatre has no control whatsoever over the content of these reviews and will not comment publicly on what he writes.

Pygmalion (2015):
Social satire, comedy, romance - take it how you like but George Bernard Shaw's play remains a classic of style and acerbic wit.

This colourful production achieves much in the way of period atmosphere and further emphasises how the sheer quality of writing would later pinpoint the success of Lerner and Loewe's musical masterpiece.

We miss the songs, of course, but this in essence is about people and their human foibles and frailties. Director Vanessa Comer focuses on these and ensures that Shavian cynicism is not swamped by sugary sentiment. In the much-vaunted argument over changed endings at the time, she comes down firmly on the original, by George!

Eliza is a peach of a part with her gradual passage through vowel-chewing gutter girl and robotic speech student to demure and sensitive young woman. Karen Brooks plays her with an enticing mix of fiery self-assertion and sweetness. In an attractively staged sequence in front of the curtains, she wanders dreamily across the auditorium after the ball, clearly emoting that she could have danced all night...

In an all-out effort to de-humanise the character of her mentor, Graham Underhill is loud and brash where Higgins requires a shade more subtlety. For all his arrogance and bullying tactics, he needs to maintain at least a veneer of charm and elegance. They should be gulfs apart, but this Higgins seems almost as coarse as John Nichols's well-played Alfred Doolittle.

In Shaw's eyes, the professor is not a very nice man at heart, but we should be able to maintain a certain fondness for him. This underlines the ambivalence of the age when Victorian prudery was slowly giving way to a new era, signalled by Eliza's vocal howlers being celebrated as the new small talk.

Visually this is a sumptuous production with fine costuming and touches of nice observation in David Draper's affable Colonel Pickering, Vicky Whitehill's formidable Mrs Pearce and Susi Walker's eloquent Mrs Higgins. There is also an effective example from Alice Scott of how to eye-catchingly lift what could be a thankless bit part as a maid.

One imagines Shaw would have been quite happy with this production. Despite the rosy glow imposed by MFL, it clearly demonstrates how his original still has plenty of edge.



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