My Fair Lady

March 6, 2019 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆    Loverly

King’s Theatre: Tue 5– Sat 9 Mar2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Southern Light Opera’s My Fair Lady at the King’s is a sumptuously staged production. It also boasts a truly outstanding central performance; if the rest is a little overshadowed as a result, it is nevertheless highly impressive.

Lerner and Loewe’s adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a contender for many people’s favourite musical. The story of phonetics professor Henry Higgins and his attempt to turn Covent Garden flower seller Eliza Doolittle into a ‘lady’ is stuffed full of memorable songs and characters.

Rebekah Lansley and company. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

This is not always an advantage, as staging a musical that has a well known film (that remains the ideal version for many) can backfire; portrayals from the movie come into your head, however hard you may try to banish them.

This is undoubtedly not the case with Rebekah Lansley, who makes the role of Eliza her own in every respect. She is gloriously accomplished at the comic moments, and manages the transition from flower girl to ‘lady’ excellently.


There are admittedly the odd shaky moments in her Cockney, but the transition to the cut-glass accent enables her to show off her singing voice, which is not only wonderfully tuneful (and commendably strong on the high notes) but is always used in the service of the song.

To witness someone so good at acting through singing is a rare thing indeed, and the performance of I Could Have Danced All Night (aided by some particularly good staging by Andy Johnston) is one of those genuinely show-stopping moments.

a carefully pitched old buffer

The rest of the cast aren’t bad, either. The odd wobbles in accent are more noticeable here, since the storyline is so concerned with ‘correct’ ways of speaking. It seems odd that Professor Higgins correctly deduces his colleague Colonel Pickering’s Eton and Cambridge background – to say nothing of his own stated dislike of Scottish accents – when the two of them are, although frightfully well spoken, still defiantly Scottish.

Alan Hunter, John Bruce and Rebekah Lansley. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

This is a minor quibble, however, as John Bruce’s Higgins is a well-rounded portrayal, not afraid to confront the less attractive sides of the character, and successfully injecting a degree of melody in songs we are so accustomed to hear spoken rather than sung.

Alan Hunter’s Pickering, meanwhile, is a carefully pitched old buffer, whose comedic elements are well judged. The same can be said for Keith Kilgore as Eliza’s father Alfred, even if the portrayal is a little on the cuddly side for someone who is avowedly amoral.

Averyl Nash and Judith Walker, as Higgins’s mother and housekeeper respectively, both nail their roles completely, making them much more believable than could easily be the case.

David Bartholomew, as Eliza’s suitor Freddie, never quite carries off the lovelorn swain, but his portrayal is nevertheless a charming one. Dorothy Johnstone gives his mother a realistic edge, while Kerr-Alexander Syme is suitably expansive as the Hungarian linguist Karpathy.

highly impressive

The chorus numbers sometimes threaten to swamp the stage, but Louise Williamson’s choreography is top-notch, and the huge numbers on stage always know what to do. A couple of the big dance numbers are a shade undercooked, but when it comes together – such as in the wonderfully staccato Ascot Gavotte, or the right royal knees-up that is Get Me To The Church On Time – it is highly impressive.

Keith Kilgore and company. Pic: Ryan Buchanan

The technical side of the production is well handled; the constant re-jigging of some highly impressive sets does not always coincide with the starts of scenes precisely, but this is not a huge problem. Johnston’s assured handling of the cast means that the various smaller roles are well discharged.

Crawford Moyes’s musical direction is very good – supple, versatile, leading a huge orchestra authoritatively and serving the singers wonderfully.

There are always going to be some problems with My Fair Lady, notably – spoiler alert – with that ending. Ignoring what Shaw did in Pygmalion, it seems (increasingly so as the years go by) to show someone giving up their chance of fulfilment to return to what looks worryingly like an emotionally abusive relationship.

Here, the gap in age between Eliza and Higgins is less pronounced than usual, but the decision to make Higgins’s final line sound almost apologetic really just draws attention to the problem without really confronting it.

Perhaps any real resolution is impossible, and it is difficult not to feel that an Eliza who dominates proceedings to the extent this one does will probably be all right.

Running time 2 hours 45 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 March 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.
Southern Light website: http://www.southernlightopera.co.uk.

ENDS

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  1. Heather says:

    Absolutely brilliant

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