‘Pygmalion’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 23, 2017

‘Pygmalion’ is the original, classic play, (NOT a musical) written by Dublin born, George Bernard Shaw. The play premiered in October 1913, surprisingly in Austria. Shaw died near Welwyn Garden city, just north of London, aged 94.

While Shaw was writing this book, he was a Socialist Councillor in Camden, near Covent Garden, which in the 1500s was the Westminster Abbey monks’ garden. In the role of Councillor, he proposed the construction of a ‘Ladies’ public toilet – amazingly, the world’s first.

In 1964, Shaw’s play was adapted into the cinema musical, ‘My Fair Lady’.

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a Cypriot who fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. Hence this tale of a young Cockney girl who transformed into a refined lady.

114 years later, the Wanneroo Repertory is presenting this comedy love story at the Limelight Theatre, Civic Drive, in Wanneroo. The two and a half hour performances can be seen on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8.00 pm until 21st October. There is one Sunday matinée on Sunday 15th October at 2.00 pm.

Incidentally, congratulations on the new website booking, informative and simple to use.

 

There are three sets and five scenes; designed Robert Usaraga who, with the help of Robert Benson Parry, also constructed them.

1          It is 1929 outside the Covent Garden Opera House, late on a wet night. The massive doors of the theatre are closed, and people are sheltering under the sandstone arches and the porte-cochère, waiting for cabs.

2          Professor Higgins’ sitting room has a fireplace to left of the stage. A room door on each side of the large archway leading to the rear staircase. The seating is comfortable and middle class. There is a large antique mahogany, roll top bureau with a small, cathedral radio on top. A wall recess has a large pottery vase displayed in it.

3          Mrs Higgins home is fitted out with the finest furniture. A sumptuous Biedermeier sofa, a chaise longue, and a chairside table with a fitted, lilac silk and lace covering. The large rear windows are trimmed with the finest curtains and drapes. A large fern in a pot topped off the scene. Scenic artist, Polly Waugh, gave a genuine finish to each setting.

The stage manager, Andrew Brown, has gathered one of the best stage crews (Tamsin Clarke, Jason Pearce, Gordon Johnson, Thomas Kinshela, and Deb Anderson) that I have seen this year. The set changes took place in dim blue light, with the proscenium curtains open. The amount of furniture movement and re-setting of fixtures and props was huge. However, the team moved silently onto the stage, each knowing exactly what their task was, carried it out, and exited within a minute. Whether massive settees or a staircase, all moved with pure clockwork precision.

Jacob Anderson’s fine lighting design was soft, and in the tone of the gas lamps, or old incandescent of the day. The lighting operator was Jacob Turner. A minor observation, and not a real problem, was that an LED flickering on the background illumination? I haven’t seen a faint flicker like that from an LED before. The sound was operated by Daniel Toomath and Kim Elford.

       The rain is pouring and the patrons from the Covent Garden Opera are gathering in search of a taxi home. The wealthy, but rather snooty, Mrs Eynsford-Hill (Cherilyn McMeekin) and her teenage daughter, Clara Eynsford-Hill (Kaitlin Okely) are waiting for young Freddy to return. Unfortunately, the ineffectual Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Mitchell Robinson) has been unable to catch a cab. A scruffy flower seller, Eliza Doolittle (Emily Botje) approaches and tries to sell them a posy, initially without success.

       Then a friend tells Eliza that a man standing in the shadows, with average clothes but shiny shoes, has been writing down her every word – could he be a plainclothes policeman? As a party trick, the gentleman approaches and tells everyone in the group, precisely from where in London they come. This is phonetic expert, Professor Higgins (Owen Phillips). At the other side of the theatre, entrance is a very smart gentleman in top hat and tails; this is Colonel Pickering (Gino Cataldo) also a dialect expert. When the two meet, Higgins takes out a wager that he can change feisty Eliza’s guttural whine, to the delicate tones and vocabulary of a lady. Once Eliza has reluctantly agreed, her dustbin man and major rogue, father Alfred Doolittle (Andrew Tovey) turns up at Higgin’s home in Wimpole Street, wanting a fee for them to ‘use’ his daughter.

         Professor Higgins gives the responsibility for looking after Eliza, to the already overworked housekeeper, Mrs Pearce (Christine Smith). From the beginning, it is obvious that Eliza is a mere shackle rather than a human being with feelings.

         Several weeks later, Higgins takes Eliza to see his mother, in order to try out his student’s new speech and character. The delightful mother, Mrs Higgins (Ursula Johnson) is yet again disappointed by her son’s apparent lack of talent and tact. When Mrs Higgin’s housekeeper (Tamsin Clarke) announces the arrival of the Eynsford-Hills, Higgins thinks this is the ideal time to really checkout Eliza.

         With Higgins still unflinching in his harsh attitude, Eliza turns to her new father figure, Colonel Pickering for help.

 

The Director, Jacob Turner, was in full control of every aspect of the production. His cast were outstanding. Emily Botje is renowned for her quality choreography, but here she completely conquered the peasant girl, in body and in voice, skilfully taking us through her ordeal. Owen Phillips as Higgins showed us what an uncaring boor he was, shouting and screaming derogatory comments at the poor defenceless girl. Every cast member was in top form, thrilling the full house – that I was very lucky to catch them on their final night.

The styles of clothing were well researched, and with everything from tramps, to lords and ladies being attired; the wardrobe mistresses Meg Considine, Loz Haynes, Joan Braskie, and Shelley McGinn excelled, you could see all the thought and hard work.

The accents were authentic, Higgins would have been proud of you all. The famous line ‘The rain in Spain’ does not appear in the book, having been added by the script writers when the Oscar winning 1938 film was made; however, another even more delightful weather reference in the original, a real tongue twister, delivered perfectly by Eliza and it brought the house down.

SPOILER: The audiences called for a happy conclusion and one director / producer modified the love factor – Shaw was furious.

Sadly, the show has finished, but certainly, this was theatre at its best.