Pygmalion: A Review
It would be naïve of anyone to believe that 21st Century Britain is a completely classless society; however, one would hope that lines have blurred since Bernard Shaw’s day. Headlong’s decision to change Eliza’s accent from that of a cockney drawl to a strong northern brogue brings this production of Pygmalion to the forefront of debate, strongly highlighting the on going north and south divide and the stereotypes therein.
The play opened with an excerpt from the casts first readings, which transformed into an impressive lip sync by all those on stage. This juxtaposition between the young Gavi Singh Chera, who played the fumbling innocent suitor Freddy, dubbed over voice of an elderly gentleman with a Received Pronunciation created a hilarious opening scene. Whilst having the audience tittering every time Freddy opened his mouth, this technique simultaneously shined a light on our own preconceived assumptions of a person’s appearance and accent.
The enjoyment from Bernard Shaw’s original play hinged on its intelligent banter, it was this essence, which was kept alive by the talented casts’ unflappable timing and delivery. What gave this production its exceptional flair was Sam Pritchard’s choice to incorporate modern sound technology into the piece. Colonel Pickering’s impromptu techno remixing the recording of Eliza’s speech patterns will not leave my head anytime soon. I would never have thought I would have found myself pumping my fist in the Liverpool Playhouse during a rendition of an early 20th Century play – and I don’t believe the surrounding members of the audience expected to see it either.
For a play based mainly around the topics of language and phonetics Headlong’s production was an astoundingly visual experience. Each scene had drastic variations in its
use of the stage, varying from very Wes Anderson-esque one-dimensional scenes in Mrs Higgins’ living room created with stages within stages, to cutting off the entire stage apart from the front lower platform. Some scenes lacked visual depths, whereas others filled with layers upon layers, such as projections of Eliza’s face being cast on the walls of Higgins’ office or pulling the poor girl around inside the recording isolation booth. It was explicit that every single scene was precisely tailored to its individual purpose, and masterfully so.
Alex Beckett gave a superb performance as the Doctor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins. Making this arrogant rude man into a loveable “twat” (their choice of words, not mine). It was his portrayal of a quick-witted pugnacious man-child which made him the character you love to hate and hope Eliza involves herself with just so this beguilingly detestable delinquent gets more bitter asides on stage. As while Higgins is undeniably a frustrating embodiment of upper-class privilege, It is his outsider status on the inside and his refusal to uphold decorum that forces you to be in agreement with him.
This co-production adaptation of Pygmalion by Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and West Yorkshire Playhouse poignantly showcased the level of detail and skill that all of those involved put into their craft. Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion can be perceived as one based around antiquated societal structures and etiquette, but by using the current societal differences in Britain and many new technical features; this team made Shaw’s words feel as raw and visceral as if they were written today.
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