My Fair Lady, Playhouse, Edinburgh <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

As Lerner and Loewe's musical My Fair Lady approaches its 50th anniversary next year, Trevor Nunn's 2001 National Theatre production is touring the country prior to crossing the pond to New York. Has the tale of the Cockney flower girl withered at all? The story, adapted (and substantially changed) from Shaw's Pygmalion, doesn't improve with age. It's a comedy of bad manners about uncomfortable class and age distinctions, with the possibility of a fairly grotesque union between a beauty and a beast. Chirpy Eliza Doolittle, programmed to enter high society like an automaton, is treated in an inescapably depressing manner by Higgins. He simply wants a woman to be like a man, and his feeble defence of his manners with the excuse that he treats all people alike is risible coming from a toff who dismisses Eliza as "guttersnipe".

Having made a gigantic leap from Emmerdale, the bird-like Amy Nuttall squawks and squeals her way as Eliza from flower-seller to cardboard-cut-out duchess. Clumsily amplified at times, she's the least audible of the cast and delivers her songs with little emotional engagement. Could she really have "danced all night"? We're not convinced. Christopher Cazenove steps into the professorial role as a tweedy, arrogant academic, more fusty than crusty. His behaviour with his mother (graciously portrayed by Hannah Gordon) reveals his true colours as a truculent and spoilt small boy.

Stephen Moore makes a jovial enough, but pallid, Colonel Pickering, while Russ Abbot turns out a terrific Alfred P Doolittle - his singing and dancing as effortless as his gift for comedy. In his ensemble numbers, he's energetically supported by the company.

Anthony Ward's versatile, airy designs are alone worth the ticket price. With the expressionless intensity of somnambulists, the elegantly clad chorus of stylish ladies and frock-coated gents twirl their umbrellas as if straight out of a Caillebotte painting. And setting the Royal Ascot scene in mourning black was de rigueur in 1910, just months after the death of Edward VII. The famous race is run in almost cinematic slow-motion, as the onlookers reel slowly round before reeling back in horror at Eliza's bloomer. As Sondheim put it in a quite different musical: "I saw My Fair Lady. I sort of enjoyed it."

To 7 January (0870 606 3424) then touring (