It’s the story we all know and love, the original “makeover plot” where the downtrodden lower class girl is transformed into a princess seemingly overnight. Pygmalion is to blame for subsequent onslaught of transformation movies (My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman, She’s All That). George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, whilst groundbreaking in its day for its use of the word “bloody” has aged, and its musical counterpart (My Fair Lady) remains a steadfast crowd favourtite (most likely for its catchy tunes and Audrey Hepburn).
The original text as performed by The Australian Shakespeare Company remains truthful to Shaw’s book, where by chance, phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Andrew Cullimore) meets Cockney flower girl Eliza Dolittle (Genevieve Kingsford) in the street and after becoming fascinated by her gutter-girl accent makes a bet with Colonel Pickering (Phillip Hayden) that with his exceptional teaching ability he could pass the lower class girl off as a duchess in six months.
Cullimore is delightfully reckless as Professor Higgins, and plays “little boy lost” to perfection. He is cruel and nasty as the thoughtless professor and clearly relishes the array of one-liners Shaw’s writing affords him.
Next to him Hayden as Pickering is positively a knight in shining armour. A word of kindness to Eliza and she is putty in his hands, Hayden is loveable as the perfect gentleman who’s only downfall is getting into cahoots with Higgins.
Keeping up with the whirlwind back and forth of the two leading men is an effort and Kingsford as Eliza does her best, however it’s not until the final act that she finally gets a chance to shine and take on both Higgins and the text.
Helen Hopkins is a joy as Mrs Higgins, and gets some of the best lines in the show. Hopkins keeps her son on his toes and refuses to be bullied by his behaviour. Joined by the formidable Leah Baulch as Higgins’ no-nonsense housekeeper and dutifully romantic Martin Moolman as Freddy, the ASC has put together a slick production with Pygmalion and the set design transports you to Covent Garden with the flick of switch.
Whilst Shaw’s original ending has it’s critics and is to be honest quite abrupt, the ASC remains steadfast in their production, keeping the original, entirely unromantic conclusion as intended. Pygmalion is a clever show. It is quick, witty at times touching but for the most part fun. This is not a serious, heavy play, but a light-hearted romp that will have you giggling at repartee between Higgins and well… everyone.
Australian Shakespeare Company presents
by George Bernard Shaw
Director Greg Caroll
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre 2 | 188 Collins Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 11 to 23 June 2018