My Fair Lady

Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, and Touring

The Ascot Gavotte

Cameron Mackintosh Stop Right There! Do not produce another version of this show! There is no way to improve on perfection and this is it - although if, as is your intention, you do another one in twenty years time, you might manage to prove me wrong!

This is an extremely lavish production, and our information pack gives us a breakdown of the logistics involved – e.g. ten forty five foot trailers transport the equipment, there are one hundred and sixty two separate outfits, seven kilos of washing powder is used each week, and with a cast of thirty five, orchestra of sixteen, and twenty five technicians. A great deal of organization is required, but it is not just the money lavished upon the show which assures its success. Meticulous attention to detail and inspired casting more than play their part. Who would have thought of stand up comic Gareth Hale (of Hale and Pace fame) as Eliza’s dustman father? He’s not noted for singing, and he certainly can’t dance, but he’s just right for the character displaying selfishness beneath the humour, and a memorable scene of his riotous stag party (“Get me to the Church On Time”) leaves him clinging drunkenly to a lamppost..

Amy Nuttall has taken on a very challenging part, constantly on stage and physically demanding. Being extremely ‘picky’ I thought her Cockney accent did not quite ring true, but no matter – she performed superbly and with perfect timing and magnificent stage presence – especially in the ballroom scene with that fabulous dress. The Ascot scene when she is first introduced to ‘society’ had everyone holding their breath as they waited for her to get her words out – willing her to get it right – proving how well she had drawn us in to her struggle to improve.

What a responsibility it must be to play Professor Henry Higgins – not just the apprehension of following the performance of Rex Harrison, but portraying a man with meticulous and pedantic insistence on the use of the English language must strike terror in the heart at the thought of forgetting or slurring words. No problems here – Christopher Cazenove not only has excellent command of his mother tongue but brings exceptional depth of feeling to the part as his original brusque uncaring manner, referring to Eliza as a “squashed cabbage leaf” gradually changes to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face”. No slushy sentimentality here – just a realisation that he does have feelings. A more perfect Higgins I have yet to see!

Act one concludes with a superb rendition of “The Street Where You Live” by besotted foppish Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Stephen Carlile’s outstanding voice holding the last note seemingly for ever as the curtain falls, and it is on this street scene that Eliza tears up Freddy’s love notes, demanding action rather than words, with a very angry “Show Me!”.

Coming from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, there are pertinent jibes at the false values of society. Higgins suggestion that Eliza could marry well, brings the response, “We sold flowers in Covent Garden – I didn’t sell myself”.

Stephen Moore is an endearingly slightly pompous Colonel Pickering, a real gentleman showing concern for Eliza contrasting with Higgins’ callous attitude. Romy Baskerville excels as housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, and Honor Blackman is elegant and beautiful in her role of exasperated mother and sympathetic advisor to Eliza. They have found too the perfect ending, slightly ambiguous and for us to complete.

Trevor Nunn’s direction, Matthew Bourne’s inspired choreography (the dustbin lid dance and the "Ascot Gavotte" in particular), together with Lerner and Loewe’s unforgettable music and Anthony Ward’s magnificent sets combine into one glorious dream of a musical. Fifty years after its conception it still seems as fresh as a daisy and sends you out with a glow and the feeling that “I Could Have Danced All Night”. Don’t miss it!

Woking until 10th June, then Milton Keynes, Southampton and Cardiff.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production in Sunderland and Kevin Catchpole in Southampton.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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