Pygmalion – September 2007


By: George Bernard Shaw

Directed by: Peter Hall

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 3rd September 2007

This was a superb production. All the performances were excellent, the set and costumes were good, and the audience was appreciative. A very good night out.

Favourite bits include Barbara Jefford as Mrs Higgins desperately trying to think of something to say when Eliza calls on her “at home”. She struggled for a long time, before falling back on the old standby, the weather. Her performance was a good foil to Tim Pigott-Smith as Henry Higgins; she was sensible, concerned for Eliza’s future, and capable of handling difficult social situations with courtesy and aplomb, so unlike her son, who was a truculent, bad-mannered bully, and whose only saving graces were his intelligence and a sort of kindness. It was interesting to see how the humour most often came from the outrageous comments he, and occasionally Colonel Pickering, made. Only their complete innocence of any wrongdoing made them funny instead of repulsive.

Tony Haygarth as Alfred Doolittle was another little gem. He rattled the lines off so quickly that at first I couldn’t make him out too well, but I soon picked it up. He gave us all we could want from this character, and I quite understand why Higgins and the Colonel were willing to give him ten pounds instead of five. Actually, Higgins was willing to give away ten pounds of the Colonel’s money, but let’s not split hairs.

I also enjoyed Una Stubbs as the housekeeper, Mrs Pearce, and the two leads were just excellent, both in terms of their own performances, and in the balance between the two. Michelle Dockery played Eliza as more independent in the beginning, less prone to crying than I’ve seen before, but that’s just a matter of interpretation – the character was still clear, and the accents seemed fine to me. I loved her poise when she came to visit Mrs Higgins for the first time, and finished her speech about the weather – she clearly let out a sigh of relief that she’d got through it OK. The contrast between her appearance and what she was saying was just superb, and the reactions of the others added to the fun. With My Fair Lady being so well known, it’s easy to forget just how well the original is written, with lots of social commentary along the way, such as the new style of speaking that the youngsters have taken to.

Tim Pigott-Smith was just about perfect as Henry Higgins. He was completely taken up with his own concerns, and just did not understand how he was affecting others, especially Eliza. Time and again he came out with the most inconsiderate statements, often digging a deeper hole for himself as he went along, but he always got away with it. His dedication to his work and his openness to new ideas made him more attractive than he had any right to expect. He was also suitably petulant at his mother’s house – a spoilt little mummy’s boy who never grew up.

I felt the ending was rather ambiguous this time. Although it appears Eliza has left for good, I’m not entirely convinced she won’t change her mind. Either way, seeing the proper story again (Peter Hall had dropped a scene written for the 1938 film) was great fun, and reminded me that Shaw could write about real people when he wanted to.

The opening scene was set in the portico of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, and was a bit too darkly lit for my taste. I had difficulty making out all that was going on, although on the whole it worked well. The changes of set took a while, but were worth it – the laboratory and drawing-room were very well designed, and gave me a strong sense of place and time.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at

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