We saw George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion at the Garrick Theatre this week. At least, I think we did. This production is so well-mannered and undemanding that it’s kind of slid right off our teflon brains already.
The reason why is simple: almost everything here, from sets to performances to (crucially) accents and intonation, simulates My Fair Lady. Seems like a business decision rather than an artistic one, to us: give the provincial public venturing into Leicester Square what they want, yeah? Don’t hurt their heads with a new interpretation. Dah.
The effect is actually to diminish Shaw’s play. The play is a sharp acid drop of a theatre piece; the filmed musical is a near-three-hour epic, with new scenes, lavish sets, and a four-minute pause at every dramatic juncture in which the characters sing a terrifically catchy song and twat around Lahndan Taahn at night like gin-addled cockerney chimpanzees. (For a film about elocution, a bizarre amount of My Fair Lady seems to take place at about 3am.)
So instead of feeling like its own thing, which it has every right to do, what with being the original source material and all, this production ironically has the vibe of a cut-down, trimmed-back version of the musical, with no singin’, less set-piece scenes, and a general low-key, drawing-room feel. (It doesn’t help that the play’s ballroom scene is almost completely missing, presumably to keep things humming along at a decent pace.) Blame the musical, if you like, for lifting most of its dialogue from the original play, giving most of the lines a sort of pre-digested quality. It’s a sad fate for such an influential piece.
Anyway, enough moaning. Whatisname, Rupert Everett is energetic and genial as a rather juvenile, wayward Professor Higgins, and Kara Tointon does an overly pitch-perfect Audrey Hepburn impression of Eliza Doolittle. Sadly, Diana Rigg was indisposed that day, so we didn’t get the benefit of her Mrs Higgins. And of course there’s one huge advantage the play will always have over the musical: Eliza leaves Higgins at the end, in what is unequivocally a happy ending for everyone except the purblind professor. (Did you know that the ending was altered, to force the characters together, from as early as 1920 in some productions… to Shaw’s inevitable rage?)
Yeah, so. This is an inoffensive, rather unambitious production, designed for mums. Ah well. If you’re going, best go before Rupert Everett departs the run in the next few weeks. One more thing to bear in mind: it doesn’t help that the Garrick suffers badly from being right next to Leicester Square tube – every four minutes, the place rumbles audibly as a tube passes underneath.
Or was it the sound of – hurr – Shaw turning in his grave? OMFG I ZINGED PYGMALION GOOD!*
*Shaw was cremated okay, let’s forget this zing ever happened