Tuesday, June 7, 2011

London Theatre 2011 - Part 3 - Pygmalion

The third evening of theatre we took in was Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre.

I have fond memories of The Garrick, as this is the theatre where I saw my first West End production in 2007, Treats with Billie Piper. That show knocked my socks off, mainly because I knew nothing about what I was going to see before I sat down. I would still love to work on that script, in some capacity.


Pygmalion was a bit of a similar situation. Of course, I know the play, but I confess I have never seen a production. I've also not read the script since college. I, like most people, am probably far more familiar with the musical version My Fair Lady.

That's a damn shame, but we'll get to that in a minute.

The idea of Everett as Henry Higgins was intriguing, as was seeing Dame Diana Rigg live and in person. Yes, I'm one of the generation at least partially led to sexual awakening by Emma Peel on The Avengers. Otherwise, I went in with a bit of a blank slate.

What I got was a nice black comedy with a bit of a mean streak. A much more interesting take on the subject that My Fair Lady will ever provide. I can't help it, people start singing, and I start to zone out on character and relationships. It becomes pretty things being paraded around the stage, and I think My Fair Lady is exceptionally guilty, especially when this source material is so rich.

Again, I think most people who might take the time to read this probably know the plot of this play, so I'm not going to trudge back over it. Suffice to say that I think the questions this play raises about women, men and identity are still very, very valid. The show felt very fresh.

Everett is perhaps a bit too dour. I've just read a review that compared his first interest to the appearance of Jack the Ripper. I wouldn't go that far, but I think that he might've allowed Higgins to enjoy his experiment, and the presence of Eliza, a bit more. The show seems to want to spin Higgins as an overgrown man-child, and that's as valid a take as any, but I think a man-child would enjoy things a bit more.

That said, the man is wonderful with the turn of a phrase, and enjoyed great chemistry with Peter Eyre as Colonel Pickering.

Dame Rigg, however was able to tap into that childish joy and glee with Mrs. Higgins. the show took an upswing every time she entered the scene. A wonderful character, well rendered.

But, really, I will save my highest praise for Kara Tointon, a British soap star (EastEnders) making her West End debut. For an actress with very few listed stage credits, she KILLED as Eliza Doolittle. She hits all of the comic beats, from the street urchin flower girl, to the almost robotic "trained" Eliza that first appears, and then nails the emotional wallop of the ending. I have her to thank for the fact I may not be able to hear someone say "how do you do" again, without laughing. Kudos for an excellent performance from a stage newcomer.

It was also nice, as we moved toward the climax of the show, my mind sticking in elements form My fair Lady, that Pygmalion takes a much darker, and interesting turn. I loved it, and I think I may be outright annoyed with the changes made for the musical. What Bernard Shaw gives us is a story about the true dangers of reshaping and playing with human beings, instead of a simple romantic comedy. When Eliza takes her life into her own hands, and asserts herself, it's an ending that brings the point home, rather than undercutting it with a weakened romantic denouement.

Nice production of a show that I should've paid more attention to before now.

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