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Waterfront Festival

Theatre Review: My Fair Lady

25 October 17 words: Ian Douglas

By George, she’s got it!

Carlton Operatic's My Fair Lady

The Nottingham Operatic Society made a wise choice in My Fair Lady, their current run at the Theatre Royal. One of the most successful ever musicals, it has it all, great songs, character-driven plot, comedy and a surprisingly subversive wit.

Professor Higgins is an expert in the science of speech. He plucks an impoverished cockney girl from Covent Garden flower market, and wagers he can pass her off as a duchess in six months. All he has to do is whip her vowels into shape.

The musical score, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is unforgettable. Once heard, you’re be humming the tunes forever more. I Could Have Danced All Night, Wouldn't It Be Loverly and On the Street Where You Live, being, arguably, the best.

A wise choice indeed, as the play provides a great vehicle for the Nottingham Operatic Society to show of their skills. And impressive those skills are. The leads are excellent. Katie Taylor is perfect as Eliza Doolittle, vulnerable beneath a brash persona. She makes the growth from naïve child to mature woman, taking control of her life, totally convincing. Simon Theobald brings to the stage a Henry Higgins who is quick-witted, brilliant, funny yet at the same time, impossible, selfish and insufferable. But he makes Higgins likeable, and that’s quite a feat. Colonel Pickering is potentially dull and doddery, but Rob Harrison infuses the character with warmth and humour.

The entire cast belt out the songs with ease. Those of us unable to carry a note can only look on and marvel. The costumes are divine, particularly the ball gowns and posh frocks for Ascot.

My Fair Lady, with its semi-mythical Cockney-Land, is pure escapism. An excuse to forget about the real world for a few hours. Or is it? Of course, it is based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Shaw was one of the founders of the middle class socialists, the Fabians. Perhaps, there is a serious undercurrent to both works, namely, how accent is used in British culture to reinforce class boundaries. We could point at the success of Joey Essex and Katie Price and conclude the days of ruthless class division are long over. But all the surveys indicate social mobility is dead in this country. And can you swear that you’ve never judged someone by their accent? Even today our voices betray our station in life, and influence how others treat us.

And what of Professor Higgins? Is he not a Frankenstein of the phonetics? With a callous disregard for the new life he created. What does Eliza see in him? Is it simply that she has nowhere to go? She can’t go back to her humble origins but she’ll never be accepted by the upper classes?

So there’s a relevance and depth to the story beyond the enchanting melodies. All the more reason to see the show and decide for yourself. The Nottingham Operatic Society’s performance never puts a foot wrong and is highly recommended.

My Fair Lady plays at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday October 2017 to Saturday October 28th 2017.

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