Pygmalion – Bernard Shaw
Theatre Royal Bath
This wildly modern reimagining of this classic Shaw play brings many issues into very sharp focus. The tale of the East End flower girl who is taken onboard by two gents in a bet to help her speak well is not the fairy tale that “My Fair Lady” turned it into. The play is dark and brutal and here Headlong has chosen to focus on how our perceptions of people are formulated by first impressions with a hint of how the middle classes seem to believe they have the answers to everything.
A stark clinical language laboratory replaces Higgins traditional opulent study; here he is even more unpleasant and petulant than usual. Alex Beckett creates a hipster style Higgins, mixing voices and sounds for his own amusement, his lack of compassion and engagement with others simply justified by the fact that’s how he treats everyone. There is an element of nobility and grace to save Colonel Pickering (Raphael Sowole) but their treatment of Eliza (Natalie Gavin) and their disregard for their actions fail to make them humorous or engaging.
The design is intriguing, the sterile worlds of the glasshouses and the sound proof box alienates us further from the expected. Sam Pritchard (Director) brings a modern analysis which reflects further the unpleasant undertones of the original text.
The performances are good; the vision accomplished and effective. The extended opening using voice changing techniques to force us to rethink our own expectations is overlong but proves a valuable point. There is use of film and at times the feeling of a political rally. This is a complex production which is both challenging and intriguing. No doubt there will be many discussions around it and to be provoked by theatre is vitally important.
*** – 3 Stars