Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Tony Turner. Canberra Repertory Society, Theatre 3, September 12 to October 4, 2008, 8pm. Bookings 6257 1950.
The aura of My Fair Lady might have made staging the original play, Pygmalion, seem dull. Not a bit of it. The intensity of the characters’ relationships, the clarity of Shaw’s ideas, and the quality of the comedy are far better, and Rep’s production does the play justice.
Jessica Brent looks and sounds as Eliza should, and shows her growing towards true independence. She may have overplayed the “guttersnipe” a little, but received justified applause for the meeting Mrs Higgins scene and the presentation to the Ambassador, where she looked stunning. On this point, costumes and sets thoughout the production were terrific.
Jerry Hearn’s Higgins is even true to the original actor’s personality defects. Shaw himself directed Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who “was so completely preoccupied with himself that he was always surprised when anyone else spoke”. Though Tree had no idea of acting by Shaw’s standards, he naturally appeared just as Shaw imagined Higgins. Hearn’s unbelieving scorn overlaying Higgins’ inability to deal with his loss in the final line “Nonsense: she’s going to marry Freddy. Ha ha! Freddy! Freddy!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!” captured both the comedy and the darker undertones that Turner mentioned in his Director’s Notes.
Each of the other key actors - John Honey as Pickering, Ian Croker as Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle, Helen Vaughan-Roberts as Mrs Higgins - matched the central roles, with strong support from Liz Bradley (Mrs Pearce) and the Eynsford-Hill family of Judi Crane, Jodi McAlister and Nicholas Tranter.
There was some nervousness on opening night, with a few lines dropped and some pacing a bit slow in the second half. But confidence will soon grow in this well directed and designed production. It is a great joy to see the real George Bernard Shaw as it should be done on stage.
© Frank McKone M.A.,
Return to Frank McKone's Home Page