REVIEW: Pygmalion at Leeds Grand Theatre

YOU BET Alistair McGowan as Henry Higgins.
YOU BET Alistair McGowan as Henry Higgins.

My Fair Lady is my favourite musical so the chance to see Pygmalion, the play which inspired it, at the beautiful Leeds Grand Theatre was a real treat.

Pygmalion was written by George Bernard Shaw and tells the tale of flower seller Eliza Doolittle and the wager phonetics professor Henry Higgins takes out with his friend and fellow phoneticist Colonel Pickering; he says he can pass her off as a lady by teaching her how to speak properly.

Alistair McGowan was delightful as Henry Higgins, giving the character a playful, school-boyish edge.

Rula Lenska was perfectly cast as his long-suffering mother, and Rachel Barry was ear-piercingly excellent as Eliza.

The scene where Eliza meets Mrs Eynsford-Hill, her daughter Clara and son Freddy, had me, and the rest of the audience, in stitches as the flower girl, a month or two into her lessons, tries to fit her mouth round the unfamiliar vowels – and teaches the Eynsford-Hills ‘the new small talk’.

For me the stage was stolen by Jamie Foreman as Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, whom Henry gives £5 in exchange for his daughter, and makes a middle class gent of him in the process.

Shaw wrote the play in 1912 but it didn’t have its opening night until April 11, 1914.

Life might have changed a lot since then, but the play’s idea that the class system can be pulled apart by how you speak – is still relevant today.