Nuffield Theatre, Southampton – until 13 May 2017
Guest reviewer: Sarah Miatt
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is, perhaps one of Britain’s most famous plays. The story of the cockney flower girl being transformed to a duchess in six months by a linguist was written over a century ago and is more often performed in its musical theatre form My Fair Lady. It is a very classic, period piece and I have never seen it performed any other way, until now.
This radical production of Pygmalion is a collaboration between Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Headlong and West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was certainly bold and brave and bought it right up to date to the digital age. What this proved was that actually, Bernard Shaw’s words are timeless and with the exception of talk of pre decimalised currency are unidentifiable as being over one hundred years old.
With the exception of the actors the clear stars of this production are the technical team. Use of digitalised sound and video special effects were quite extraordinary. The way that speech and sound was manipulated by electronics live onstage was so effective. Particular highlights of this were the different voices that the cast lip synced to in the opening scene, Higgins turning Eliza’s speaking into a beat that Mrs Pearce and Colonel Pickering did a hip hop routine to and the use of voice manipulation when Eliza was saying the word ‘Guttersnipe’. This final piece of sound was heartbreaking to hear.
Set basic and bland, was as it needed to be whilst the back of it was used as a video projector for much of it. Mrs Higgins house was cleverly designed. It was essentially a glass box on stilts but it represented so much more. The costumes were confusing, there was a lot of modern sportswear and as a whole this area was a little underwhelming compared to the rest of the production.
This was performed by a very talented and unexpected cast. Liza Sadovy played the usually straight laced Mrs Higgins but in this production she was anything but. She was laid back and very funny with great comic timing. Ian Burfield was every inch the cockney Alfred Doolittle one would expect but performed as stand up artist. Once again very clever and done incredibly well.
Raphael Sowole made the usual kindly old gent that Colonel Pickering is, into a smart, kind and very funky young man. While Natalie Gavin was perfectly cast playing Eliza. She was funny and heartbreaking in equal measure and really made the audience feel compassion for her.
The production was owned by Alex Beckett as Henry Higgins. Much younger than the usual casting, he was reminiscent of Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes, suffering from OCD and on occasion childlike. Becketts performance was extraordinary.
This is an important, funny piece about class and the links to the way we speak, it is as relevant now as it was a century ago. Go and see this with an open mind and you will not be disappointed.