Theatre: Pygmalion Albery Theatre, London Kiss Me Kate Regent's Park, London

"I've grown accustomed to her face," sings Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady, the musical version of Pygmalion. With three changes of director and Emily Lloyd's replacement, as Eliza, by a newcomer straight from drama school, simply recognising each other must be counted an achievement for the cast of this latest staging of the original Shaw play. Now steered into the West End by farceur Ray Cooney, the show is not as bad as you might expect and not as good as you have a right to expect. It's the kind of production for which the word "serviceable" might have been invented.

Playing a flower girl elevated from gutter to high society via phonetic engineering, does the unknown Carli Norris make an equivalent leap from obscurity to stardom? Well, it's not so much a case of "By George, she's got it!" as "By George, she may well have it!" She certainly has terrific natural presence and poise and there's an impish quality about her prettiness that is unmistakably appealing. But I don't think she has been well served either by the direction or the other leading players.

Wearing a curly quiff that announces "wig" with a distinctness that would please any phonetician, Roy Marsden's Higgins badly overdoes the overgrown- schoolboy-with-mother-complex aspect of the professor. He's so agressively sexless with his spoilt-infant body language and boffinish gurgles that there's nothing for Ms Norris to connect with. What is attractive about this man's questing vitality gets mislaid.

Occasionally, in Ms Norris's performance, less would be more. In the famous tea-party scene where Eliza launches into an immaculately enunciated account of how her gin-soaked aunt was "done in", the actress's manner has the hilarious robot stiffness of some battery-operated machine.

Christopher Woods's depressing set of pillars and metal walkways has, with appropriate projections, to pass for Covent Garden, Higgins's study and a London embassy where a feebly staged dance is executed. There are fine supporting performances from a splendidly pursed and disapproving Marcia Warren as Higgins's housekeeper and from Michael Elphick who, as Doolittle, has the knobbly featured canniness of a cockney WC Fields. (Fortuitously elevated from dustman's outfit to morning dress, he projects the bemusement of a displaced lottery winner.) But, as with all merely respectable productions of Pygmalion, you find yourself responding to it as though it were My Fair Lady manque and pining for the Lerner-Loewe songs.

Another musical spin-off that is arguably better than its source is Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, where the off-stage bickerings of two formerly married, tempermental American thesps are paralleled by their on-stage turmoil in a revival of The Taming of the Shrew. The opening night of Ian Talbot's delightful staging was rained off - "Another Op'nin', Another Shower?" - but I caught up with it in the balmiest of conditions a few nights later. It's by no means a flawless production but it captures just the right witty, showbizzy spirit.

What Andrew C Wadsworth lacks in fullness of voice and charisma in the Fred Graham/Petruchio role he makes up for in charm and self-mocking inventiveness. As his sparring partner, Louise Gold is a comically commanding figure - outdoing herself in campy, gorge-rising revulsion and contentious, drop- dead postures on each successive verse of "I Hate Men". This is one of the most brilliant Broadway scores ever written and it is delivered here by performers who really know how to pace the song.

For my money, though, Issy Van Randwyck turns Lois Lane into too cartoonie a gaping dumb-blonde sexpot. In a number like the hilarious "Always True to You in My Fashion", you should be able to hear the shifts between butter- wouldn't-melt mock innocence and on-the-make raunch in the voice but Ms Van Randwyck has to rely unduly on physical gesture.

The cast is full of attractively quirky performers - none more endearing than Gavin Muir and Rob Edwards as a pair of Runyon-esque gangsters who have a financial interest in the inset show remaining on. "It's entertaining, vivacious and calculated to please the discerning theatre-goer. You can quote me," reports one of them encouragingly. The same goes for this Kiss Me Kate. They can quote me.

`Pygmalion' at the Albery Theatre, London WC2 to 4 Oct (0171-369 1730); `Kiss Me Kate' at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1, to 14 Aug (0171-486 2431)

Paul Taylor

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea