Theatre: Simply cinematic

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The Independent Culture
PYGMALION CITIZENS THEATRE GLASGOW

LOVERS ROYAL LYCEUM THEATRE EDINBURGH

IT CAN be tricky for Bernard Shaw's linguistic Cinderella parable to escape the shadows of Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, but Philip Prowse's sparkling new production of Pygmalion actively invokes and welcomes them. That's partly due to Simon Dutton's distinctly Harrison-esque performance as Henry Higgins, and to the piece's style. With its bright, filmic lighting, lush visual textures and elegant, grand-scale set, the staging conjures a big-screen feel while revelling in the play's sophisticated theatricality, particularly the dynamism gained from the language's cut-and-thrust in a live context.

The calibre and complexity of the performances are central to its success, most obviously the lynchpin triumvirate of Dutton's Higgins, Lise Stevenson's Eliza, and Ellen Sheean, glacially yet insouciantly poised as Mrs Higgins, each holding the realistic, the comic and the emblematic dimensions of their character in near-perfect equilibrium.

Perhaps the key sign of how faithfully Shaw has been served is that his deepest subtext, regarding the delicate four-way dialectic of class, work, language and selfhood, is as readable as his broadest comic strokes.

Royal Lyceum director Kenny Ireland also adopts a cinematic approach in his revival of Lovers, Brian Friel's 1966 drama, at least in the first of its two mirrored segments, "Winners", in which a teenage Northern Irish couple contemplate their future. Ireland frames Mag and Joe (Katherine Igoe and Patrick Moy) on their sunny, Saturday-morning hilltop, high and Technicolor-vivid above the main stage, with Russell Hunter and Una McLean seated and half-lit below as the anonymous narrators unemotionally recounting what actually became of them. "Losers" finds Hunter and McLean centre stage, as the middle-aged courting couple whose passion is stymied by the presence of her relentlessly pious elderly mother.

There's little obvious fault in the execution of the piece, apart from the second half being played rather too coarsely for laughs; Igoe and Moy are thoroughly absorbing and genuinely moving, but there's a crucial something lacking. Without real depth of characterisation, it fails to deliver true emotional resonance or that satisfying sense of substance, qualities so evident in the Citizens' show.

`Pygmalion' (0141-422 0022) to 9 Oct; `Lovers' (0131-248 4848) to 2 Oct

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