Pygmalion, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Friday 21 May 2010
Shaw's Pygmalion may not be the smash hit that is My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe's creation considered "the perfect musical", but it has more substance. Even with some of the additional scenes which Shaw added, making the ending slightly more long-drawn out than is strictly necessary, Greg Hersov's polished production keeps the top spinning.
In her transformation from feisty flower girl to classy automaton, Cush Jumbo as Eliza displays both pathos and quiet triumph in her final liberation from the clutches of the heartless Higgins. She captures the character's riven complexities so convincingly that her eventual discovery of her real self is all the more effective.
Attention is focused on Ashley Martin-Davis's handsome floor with its design of sound-waves. The set cunningly adapts with gas lamps to represent rainy Covent Garden, stuffy leather furniture for Higgins's study and elegant Edwardian sofas for his mother's drawing room.
Simon Robson's phonetics professor is less of an overgrown schoolboy here, and more of an emotionally stunted man locked in his own self-esteem. How his remarkably sanguine mother, impeccably played by Gaye Brown could have produced such a selfish monster is hard to comprehend. When Robson's Higgins finally recognises the beating heart of his creation it's with relief that we realise it is far too late for him to make amends.
Terence Wilton's impeccably well-mannered Colonel Pickering adds genial warmth while, as Higgins's long-suffering housekeeper, Sue Wallace is suitably disapproving of her employer's callous experiment. But none of them matches Ian Bartholomew's brilliant portrayal of Alfred Doolittle, himself transformed from fully paid-up member of the undeserving poor who can't afford morals to nouveau riche member of the middle class.
To 19 June (0161 833 9833)
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