Review by Tanya Louise Editor
Celebrated Bachelor transforms street girl, forming an unlikely pair. Sound familiar?
I could be talking about Pretty Woman, but in actual fact it is the plot to My Fair Lady. Pretty Woman bears striking resemblances to Pygmalion myths: particularly George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name, which also formed the basis for the Broadway musical My Fair Lady.
The lady in question is street flower seller Eliza Dolittle, the subject of a bet between phonetics professor Henry Higgins and his linguistic colleague Colonel Pickering as to whether they can transform her into a duchess for an Embassy ball. Harking back to the bygone golden era is always a bit dangerous. The story itself plods a little at roughly a derriere numbing 2 hours 50. No fault of the Nottingham Operatic Society who do a magnificent job of bringing this classic story to stage. The actors are faultless in this production, under the Direction of Morven Harrison.
Kate Taylor takes on the lead role made famous on stage by Julie Andrews and later Audrey Hepburn on screen. Why this woman isn’t a star in musical theatre is beyond me. She is an extremely talented vocalist and actress who delivers an enchanting performance making the transformation from Cockney flower girl to upper class woman, believable.
Simon Theobald is a terrific Higgins playing the role wonderfully with aristocratic bluster . Charming and detestable in equal parts in his desire to change Eliza. Time has not been kind (and why should it) to a story of a man trying to control a woman. That aside this talented cast bring to life list of songs you’re guaranteed to know, even if you’ve never seen the musical, such as Wouldn’t it Be Lovely which imagines a better life for those living on the streets and On the Street Where You Live.
Ian Pottage makes a great Alfred P Doolittle with his renditions of With a Little Bit Of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time and Rob Harrison has plenty of warmth as Colonol Pickering
The set design is pretty stunning. Backdrops slide in and and out to transport us to different locations. The costumes are pretty impressive too, from the rags of the street folk to the breathtaking dresses later worn by Eliza.
Loveable for its ear worm music, this classic crowd pleaser is well worth the price of a ticket. What I like about productions such as those by the Nottingham Operatic Society is that they are performed by actors of all ages from all walks of life, with a real passion for what they do, and that comes through in the performance.
You’re guaranteed to leave the Theatre humming I Could Have Danced All Night…
The Nottingham Operatic Society made a wise choice in My Fair Lady, their current run at the Theatre Royal. One of the most successful ever musicals, it has it all, great songs, character-driven plot, comedy and a surprisingly subversive wit.
Professor Higgins is an expert in the science of speech. He plucks an impoverished cockney girl from Covent Garden flower market, and wagers he can pass her off as a duchess in six months. All he has to do is whip her vowels into shape.
The musical score, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is unforgettable. Once heard, you’re be humming the tunes forever more. I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and On the Street Where You Live, being, arguably, the best.
A wise choice indeed, as the play provides a great vehicle for the Nottingham Operatic Society to show of their skills. And impressive those skills are. The leads are excellent. Kate Taylor is perfect as Eliza Doolittle, vulnerable beneath a brash persona. She makes the growth from naïve child to mature woman, taking control of her life, totally convincing. Simon Theobald brings to the stage a Henry Higgins who is quick-witted, brilliant, funny yet at the same time, impossible, selfish and insufferable. But he makes Higgins likeable, and that’s quite a feat. Colonel Pickering is potentially dull and doddery, but Rob Harrison infuses the character with warmth and humour.
The entire cast belt out the songs with ease. Those of us unable to carry a note can only look on and marvel. The costumes are divine, particularly the ball gowns and posh frocks for Ascot.
My Fair Lady, with its semi-mythical Cockney-Land, is pure escapism. An excuse to forget about the real world for a few hours. Or is it? Of course, it is based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Shaw was one of the founders of the middle class socialists, the Fabians. Perhaps, there is a serious undercurrent to both works, namely, how accent is used in British culture to reinforce class boundaries. We could point at the success of Joey Essex and Katie Price and conclude the days of ruthless class division are long over. But all the surveys indicate social mobility is dead in this country. And can you swear that you’ve never judged someone by their accent? Even today our voices betray our station in life, and influence how others treat us.
And what of Professor Higgins? Is he not a Frankenstein of the phonetics? With a callous disregard for the new life he created. What does Eliza see in him? Is it simply that she has nowhere to go? She can’t go back to her humble origins but she’ll never be accepted by the upper classes?
So there’s a relevance and depth to the story beyond the enchanting melodies. All the more reason to see the show and decide for yourself. The Nottingham Operatic Society’s performance never puts a foot wrong and is highly recommended.
My Fair Lady plays at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday October 2017 to Saturday October 28th 2017.
Nottingham Operatic Society productions are always a delight to experience.
There is an extra element of enjoyment to be had watching people who spend their days as lawyers, artists, full time mums and senior citizens, plunging into the demanding realm of musical theatre with all the gusto and skill they can muster.
Their enthusiasm and commitment is certainly on show in this classic of the genre, a work of genius in which the masterful text of George Bernard Shaw is married to some of the most delightful show tunes, courtesy of Lerner and Loewe, ever written. If you know musicals, you know the story. Linguistics expert Professor Henry Higgins stumbles upon Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle and, in a moment of boorish arrogance, bets his companion Colonel Pickering he can turn the “squashed cabbage leaf” into a lady fit to mix with royalty.
What follows is a fusion of music hall banter, Broadway score, and a biting satire on inequality between the classes and genders.
Inevitably, fixed in the mind’s eye are Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison from the 1964 movie, and the challenge for any company is to try to live up to that standard.
NOS make a splendid job of it, thanks in no small part to the inspired casting of Kate Taylor as Eliza and Simon Theobald as Prof Higgins, the pair of them as close to professional perfection as is possible on the amateur stage.
And that seam of talent runs through the cast. Rob Harrison plays old army buffer Col Pickering with splendid harrumph; Ian Pottage pays great homage to Stanley Holloway’s definitive Mr Doolittle; Drew Dennis makes the most of one of the show’s big songs, On The Street Where You Live, and Linda Croston adds some weighty humour as the professor’s worldly-wise mother.
My Fair Lady is chock full of deliciously witty and familiar tunes like Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck and Get Me To The Church On Time, all performed so flawlessly, I had to keep reminding myself they really are all amateurs!