Theatre

Review Round-Up: Pygmalion



Peter Hall’s old fashioned but hugely satisfying staging of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was first produced in Bath last summer as part of the director’s annual summer residency at the Theatre Royal.

Now it makes the move what some would consider an overdue move to the Old Vic in London. But how did it fair with the critics?
As in Bath, the show, which stars Michelle Dockery as the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Tim Piggott Smith as Henry Higgins, the phonetics professor who takes it upon himself to teach her elocution and etiquette, has been warmly received, attracting mainly four star reviews. The performances of both Dockery and Piggott Smith have both been singled out for praise.

Nicholas de Jongh, writing in the Evening Standard, describes Piggott Smith as being in ‘dynamic forma dishevelled bundle of nervous energy and theatrical extroversion.’ He notes the way Higgins treats Eliza as if she were some ‘interesting laboratory specimen’ and points out the sexlessness of the relationship between the trio formed by Higgins, Eliza and Colonel Pickering (played by James Laurenson).

Benedict Nightingale in the Times thought that Tim Piggott Smith was ‘wonderfully watchable’ but at times ‘laid on the infantilism a bit thick.’ He also praises Barbara Jefford for her performance as Higgin’s world weary mother.

Michael Billington in the Guardian was particularly enthusiastic. He describes the production as putting the ‘seal on the recent Shaw revival.’ He goes on to explain how in his opinion, the play’s ‘mixture of comic ecstasy and tragic pain’ makes it infinitely superior to My Fair Lady, the Lerner and Loewe musical. Both Dockery and Piggott Smith ‘play superbly’ and concludes that the ‘joy of the evening is that a great play has been faithfully restored reminding us that Shaw’s intellectual vitality masked a real sense of life’s comedy and pain.’

Jeremy Austin in The Stage echoes that sentiment, describing the way this production ‘chimes out Shaw’s message with devastating accuracy.’ Sarah Hemmings writing in the Financial Times also feels that, though Shaw’s play was set a century ago in Edwardian London, it still has much contemporary resonance and ‘the questions Shaw raises about identity, class and gender come ringing across.’

Out in the blogosphere even the West End Whingers found themselves charmed, describing it as the fourth production at the Old Vic they’ve ‘not merely endured, but actually enjoyed.’ Praise indeed.

Pygmalion plays at the Old Vic until 2 August 2008



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