My Fair Lady

Lerner & Loewe
National Theatre production
Southampton Mayflower

Amy Nuttall and Christopher Cazenove

Fifty years of Lerner and Loewe’s brilliant musical version of Bernard Shaw’s classic from 1912, Pygmalion, are celebrated this week with the revival at Southampton of Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre production. The UK jubilee tour, launched in Manchester last year, features many of the stars associated with the last stages of the recent Drury Lane revival – though orchestral and, consequently, also stage amplification does no favours either to dialogue or the remarkable score.

Audiences brought up on the 1938 film featuring Wendy Hiller, Leslie Howard and Wilfred Lawson, may not appreciate that Shaw was persuaded to rewrite the finale to include Eliza’s return, a feature without which the show would now be unthinkable.

And while Christopher Cazanove is superb as the present incarnation of Higgins, the same cannot be said for Amy Nuttall’s outing as Eliza. One has the impression she is taking too literally Zoltan Karparth’s judgement of her as “Hungarian”. At all events the examples of Joanna Riding, Katie Knight-Adams and even, on the occasional good night, Martine McCutcheon, have set standards for the performance of Eliza that are beyond many singers. Moreover, the echoes of Julie Andrews’ remarkable light soprano are even now too fresh in the memory for many rivals.

Even the experienced Stephen Moore is rather lacking sparkle as Pickering while Gareth Hale is a shadow of Lawson, Holloway and the reprobate character from The Sweeney and Minder, Dennis Waterman.

There is, however, a charming performance from Hannah Gordon as Mrs Higgins – actresses have been known to enjoy this role into retirement – and Romy Baskerville is a formidable Mrs Pearce. Stephen Carlile also catches the eye, and ear, as Freddie in a likeable performance of a role not normally given to glamour. And the Ascot scene is notable for a delightful cameo as Clara Eynsford-Hill by Jamie Farr.

Anthony Ward’s settings and Matthew Bourne’s movement both secure the excellent style of this production, which, alas, suffers from over-amplification of the fine orchestra over which one would like to see conductor Adam Rowe exercise greater control. For the lack of it, the singers paid dearly through their own powerful mikes.

Shaw, who took an Oscar for his own new version, would surely not have liked to hear the English language, and his own beloved phonetics, distorted by quite so much excess.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production in Sunderland and Sheila Connor in Guildford.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole

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