My Fair Lady is the musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play ‘Pygmalion’. Set in Edwardian London, it follows the metamorphosis of a coarse young guttersnipe into a charming young lady through the guidance of a distinguished but provocative phonetician. The tone is cheery and the music bright, yet the bones of Shaw’s original social commentary still poke through, thus offering a production that is at once entertaining and morally engaging.
Rebekah Lansley plays the famous Eliza Doolittle, who happens upon Professor Henry Higgins (John Bruce) and Colonel Pickering (Alan Hunter) whilst selling flowers in the street. These two confirmed bachelors have just met themselves and Higgins invites the Colonel to move into his flat so that they can explore their mutual interest in linguistics together. On hearing Eliza’s humble Cockney accent, Higgins boasts that he can transform her from a grubby flower girl to an elegant duchess in a matter of months. Colonel Pickering takes him up on such a bet and so ensues Eliza’s education in the haughty customs of the upper class.
Unsurprisingly for a musical, the music forms an integral part of this production, as much of Shaw’s original wit is captured in its songs. On this front, the Southern Light Opera Company undoubtedly delivers. In fact, I would say that the musical abilities of the cast are the true triumph of the show. Lansley has a stunning voice that effortlessly saunters up and down challenging octaves, in her brash colloquial accent and received pronunciation alike. Keith Kilgore, as Eliza’s father, leads several rowdy performances, in which he epitomises a cheeky Cockney chappie.
Whilst the sheer size of the cast could leave the chorus scenes cluttered and messy for a lesser cast, Southern Light thrives in the chaotic coordination of the larger numbers. Songs such as ‘With A Little Bit Of Luck’ and ‘Get Me To The Street On Time’ are expertly choreographed by Louise Williamson, with a talented group of main dancers displaying skills that could easily be of a professional standard.
Enhancing the many artistic layers of this production are some pleasing set designs, including the library backdrop, which is wonderfully detailed. One aspect that I find particularly enjoyable is the timelapse shown in the song ‘Poor Professor Higgins’. The use of the spotlight and the sound of the clock complementing the servants’ tuneful concerns for their employer are effective in demonstrating the passage of time, which can be challenging when attempted within a single scene.
My only critique would be that the adapted Hollywood-style ending is not wholly palatable to a modern audience. This is not something to be held against the Southern Light Opera Company however, but rather Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who deviated from Shaw’s intended final scene in order to appease his 1914 audience. Nevertheless, the musical is a delightful adaptation that will appeal to all and this particular production is delivered by a top-rate operatic society.
PHOTOS: Ryan Buchanan