George Bernard Shaw’s sparkling play is yet another Malvern sell-out and it’s not hard to see why.
Shaw’s tale of the humble Cockney guttersnipe who is transformed into a lady leaving her flower basket behind for a life among London’s middle classes was the inspiration behind the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady becoming one of the most beautiful musicals in cinema history.
But this touring production directed with calm elegance by David Grindley allows you to relish Shaw’s original language in all its glory, as moral issues, love and relationships are debated in Jonathan Fensom’s flexible setting where Covent Garden in the rain is metamorphosed into Professor Higgins’ study, Mrs Higgins’ drawing room or wherever with an almost balletic grace.
In this pacey, well-dressed production the play is exactly as it should be. Every word is audible (if you don’t achieve that in Shaw, the story is lost) every turn of the wrist or movement of the body counts and when Higgins (the excellent Alistair McGowan, who has the character firmly in his grasp) sprawls in his armchair towards the end of the play, his indolent body language speaks volumes. Does he see Eliza Doolittle (Rachel Barry) merely as an experiment in class transformation which has worked, where a simple flower girl has been passed off in society as a duchess, thus boosting his self-esteem, or is she (shocking thought) merely his factotum there to fetch his slippers.
Frankly, you are left guessing and it is something which gives the evening its piquancy along with Shaw’s ever present concerns with women’s lib and social hypocrisy, formalised in the character of Alfred Doolittle, (another first class performance by Jamie Foreman) who slides easily into the middle classes with the help of a legacy of £3,000 a year.
Elsewhere Rula Lenska is fine as a compassionate Mrs Higgins and Paul Brightwell almost convinces as Colonel Pickering. I am not sure Rachel Barry finds the heartbreak that lies within Eliza at the end of the play, in this production it seems beyond her capacities to let us know.
Until Saturday and then at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from May 12 until May 17.