It is a 100 years since Pygmalion had its opening night, and you do not need a text book to wise up to what Bernard Shaw’s ambitions for the play was, and to acknowledge the moral message about matters of social inequality that it conveys.
As a playwright of independent mind, Shaw would support ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ principle in one hand, but this tale of a brash and common East End girl, Eliza Doolittle (Rachel Barry) being taught to pronounce phonetics by a specialist as part of a social experiment in order to better her social status, demonstrates too, Shaw’s belief in the ridding of accents in order to override prejudices. People did back then, and still do, base their opinions of others, when it comes to matters of social circumstance (one’s birth place and income for example) largely on the way someone speaks.
If you like the comedy work of Alistair McGowan and find his send ups of public figures have you howling with laughter, then you would not be wrong to think his skills would crossover nicely to fit the role of the Professor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins. It is true, McGowan has some well-aimed fun with the role of a character who is dispassionate, but his performance lacks passion and believability nonetheless.
Eliza’s wailing and the booming voice of her father, Alfred (Jamie Foreman) provides the much needed contrast in tempo, as many scenes are slow paced and labour on for too long. Unfortunately, despite Rula Lenska, as Henry’s mother, having great stage presence – with her graceful movements and the strong, deep richness of that voice of hers; the performances, overall, lose any momentum they had at the beginning and have run out of steam by the end.
I would like to add however, that the moveable set is a marvel. The room settings are extremely atmospheric because of the furnishings and the lighting tricks deployed. The costumes are wonderful and fun at the same time; McGowan usually looks so smart on the TV but I think it was intentional that his character looks a little disheveled!
Reviewer, Debra Hall attended the press night showing of Pygmalion on Monday 12 May 2014 on behalf of tssreviews
Pygmalion is in Coventry until 17 May 2014