ALISTAIR McGowan made a big impression on the audience at the Theatre Royal last night, as he reprised his West End role of Professor Henry Higgins in Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
McGowan brought his own particular brand of exuberance to the demanding role, which tells the story of an expert in Phonetics (Prof. Higgins), who, as a bet with fellow intellectual Colonel Pickering, plucks a lowly flower girl from the streets of London and transforms her into a well spoken young lady, capable of going unnoticed at a high society garden party in just six months.
Characterisations are superb, from the very first scene comprising theatre goers, street-walkers and, of course Eliza (played by Rachel Barry) and Henry Higgins, right through to the final scenes in Mrs Higgins’ drawing room, with Rula Lenska taking the role of Mrs Higgins and the ever popular Jamie Foreman (famous for his role as Derek Branning in EastEnders), who despite a couple of tongue-tied moments elicited extra warmth from the audience as both poor dustman and middle-class man.
McGowan is hilarious, fiddling and fidgeting away to his heart’s content; still behaving like a little boy, being admonished by his mother and not caring about conventions in any way.
Rachel Barry is also deserving of praise for her superlative accents, ranging from her East End howls to the ‘cut glass’ accent of the upper class.
Those hoping for memorable more ‘Rain in Spain’ moments may well have been disappointed as, unlike the romantic musical and film productions of ‘My Fair Lady’, the story moves on quickly from Eliza the East End girl , barely focussing on the through the transition at all, and becomes a social commentary on the pre-war era, just as Shaw intended No character is redundant, and every lineof the script is clever and well thought out; for many this is Shaw at his very best, just before war tears the country apart and the fight for equality gets swallowed up in the need for society to pull together, come what may.
Subdued lighting and detailed set are excellent representations of the Edwardian era and although they lack the excitement of a modern interpretation are perfect for this particular production.
Pygmalion runs at the Theatre Royal, Bath until Saturday, March 29.