In this review, I will discuss a professional performance of the musical, ‘My Fair Lady’, that I saw performed in Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. I will comment on scenery, costumes, choreography, sound, audience reaction, the actors’ interpretation of their characters, how well they interacted with the other characters and responded to what was going on on-stage. I saw an afternoon performance performed on a proscenium arch stage. The musical is set in London in 1910.
The main characters are: Eliza Doolittle a commoner with a common accent that she wants to change so she can work in a flower shop, Professor Henry Higgins the man who teaches her and Alfred P Doolittle Eliza’s father, played by Dennis Waterman. The main storyline is that Eliza a flower girl at the time wants to work in a flower shop, but cannot due to her cockney accent. She turns to Prof. Henry Higgins to give her lessons in speech. He laughs in her face but is convinced by his friend Colonel Pickering that he could pass her off as a lady if he really wanted to.Order now
Higgins accepts the challenge and successfully passes Eliza off as a lady at many events including ‘a day at the races’ at Ascot, where she meets Freddy Eynsford Hill played by Mark Umbers, who follows her home, hoping to see her again. After a ball at the Embassy, Higgins and Pickering congratulate each other on their good work but forget Eliza. Hurt and angry, she rushes out of the house and runs into Freddy. He proclaims his love for her, but she demands that he stops talking about it.
Meanwhile, her father, who has now become famous through his philosophies decides it time to marry the woman he has been with for years and spends his stag night on the town. Get me to the church on time. Higgins awakens to find Eliza gone, and after searching for her, finds her at his mother’s house where she’s gone for comfort. Eliza refuses his tentative offering of truce. Upset, Higgins returns home revolving on his thoughts of Eliza I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face and sits listening to recordings of her voice, when Eliza quietly enters as the curtain falls.
All the scene changes were computerised. I could tell this because I could see the stage manager in one of the side boxes, controlling the lighting and scene changes. I didn’t like this because it reminded you that you were actually in a theatre, not in Covent Garden in 1910. The stage was like a conveyor belt, moving to bring the set on between scenes. At the end of each scene they’d move into the wings bringing the set for the next scene on.
All other sets were flown in with ropes, except for the green at Ascot, which was a carpet, rolled on by two of the stage crew. I will discuss what I thought about the sets for each scene, The first scene was introduced during the overture. The audience saw a transparent curtain at the front of the stage covered in roses, which was appropriate as Eliza is a flower girl. During the overture, the roses gradually became by means of light a picture of the poor people of the time. This curtain became transparent to reveal a scene outside the opera house in Covent Garden.
There were pillars stage left and right, moving back to up-stage, and this created depth, as though the stage were a long road. The cobbles were projected onto the stage floor using light and were also coloured to look even more realistic. I thought that this was a good trick to use to save effort creating a floor, although, you could sometimes see the cobbles on men’s hats. The set was then dressed with the Company who sat around as the poor people on boxes which were brought on using the ‘conveyor belt’ stage.
At the end of the scene, the stage immediately started moving, the belt taking off these boxes to stage left and bringing on a bar from stage right. Other belts in front brought on tables and chairs from both sides. The pillars were flown off and hidden above the stage. The back wall for the next scene Public house was also brought in using this ‘belt’ method. I liked this method of scene change because it all happened in front of the audience’s eyes as we saw the scene gradually ‘fade away’ whilst seeing the set for the next being gradually built up.
During the song ‘With a Little bit of Luck’ when the cast make their way out of the pub, a flat showing the outside of the pub was flown in at the front of the stage, while the scene was still going on inside, and the cast then exited the ‘pub’ through the doors on the flat. I found this very realistic as I could imagine the cast still behind the flat, as though they were inside, and then actually walking to the door to leave. The only criticism I have for this scene is that the ‘smoke’ which was supposed to come from the bar, came on from the wings, by a dry ice machine, which was unrealistic.
The set for Higgins’ study was flown in, except for the furniture, which was brought in on the belt. The set consisted of two bookshelves, one on each side, each one being like two walls of the room side and back the two back walls joined together up-stage, also creating the landing upstairs, which was actually used in a few scenes as there were steps coming from it onto the stage. This made it look incredibly realistic and gave height to the room because we could see the upstairs and the downstairs. Under the landing was an archway joining the two side walls which was used for entries from ‘outside the house’.
This had to be my favourite set because it was very realistic, it even had the details of a real room such as books on the shelves and lamps and plants on stands were around the room. The Ascot scene was the only scene where part of the set was brought on by the stage crew. A green carpet, to represent the grass was rolled on. It started upstage where it was small in width and ended downstage, where the width was long. This was to show perspective and to make the stage seem longer. A short white fence was brought on upstage and covered the back.
Behind it was a cyclorama that had a blue sky with clouds projected onto it. Halfway through the scene, a same fence as the one used upstage was brought on using the belt downstage. The cast watched the race from behind this fence. I don’t know whether this was done so the audience could see what was going on before the race or because it was like a scene change. before the race, we see the characters meet and chat, and during, they move to a different place to watch the race. Other scenes were the Embassy which used soft lighting and had chandeliers suspended from the ceiling.
The pillars flown in were the same as the ones used in the opening scene. Also, there was Mrs. Higgins’ conservatory where actual panes of glass were flown in as a backdrop. I thought that the costumes as a whole were excellent. The different groups of people were easily distinguished. The poor women all wore ragged skirts and straw boaters. The poor men all wore dai caps and neck ties. In the opening scene, the women wore shawls to show the cold. You could tell as soon as Higgins entered that he was rich. He was dressed more smartly than the others and wore a matching suit.
Other costumes that stood out were the way the cast were dressed in the Ascot scene. They were all dressed in black because they were in mourning. They all carried black umbrellas which were of the time and were also used during the dance which was useful. Eliza’s costume at the start was scruffy. Her hair was untidy and we could tell she was dirty, maybe even dirtier than the others, to show the contrast afterwards when she became ‘a lady’, especial when she went to the ball and wore a long, flowing, white gown.
I thought the choreography was excellent. Everyone seemed to be in time with each other during ‘Ascot Gavotte’, and it looked truly professional. Another thing I found entertaining was the choreography for ‘The Rain in Spain’ because all three characters seemed to be doing different things in completely different parts of the stage. Pickering danced on the table whilst Higgins ran around the room after Eliza who was dancing around the furniture. I though that this created shape, height and depth to the scene and also showed some slapstick comedy.
Also, outside the public house for ‘A little bit of Luck’ was a song I enjoyed because of the dancing and the singing. The men attached dustbin lids to their feet and banged them on the floor like drums. At one point, the orchestra weren’t even playing and the cast were dancing around whilst playing percussion. It was a very energetic scene and it seemed very surreal because of the fact that the tuning on the dustbin lids was perfect and in key with the pots and pans that were being hit. The sound on the microphones was excellent.
Everything was clear, and the singing sounded as though it was actually being projected by the actors themselves. The orchestra were all in time and sounded very professional. However, I found that they didn’t play much of an overture before the opening. It only contained highlights from about three songs and was too short. The audience reaction was approving of the performances. Eliza got a round of applause after the scene where she drops her H’s. Also, they seemed to laugh at the jokes actually written into the script as much as they laughed at the actors’ interpretation of the characters.
The way Eliza spoke especially, as she was trying to be overly posh, and the audience knew she was just a common flower girl. I have chosen to talk about the performances of three actors. Alexandra Jay, who played Eliza, Jonathan Price, who played Higgins and Nicholas le Prevost who played Pickering. I thought that Alexandra maintained both accents that she used very well, though I felt that the last line she sang in ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’ wasn’t common enough. It was sung before Eliza had lessons in diction. I think her interpretation of Eliza as a ‘lady’ was excellent.
Eliza’s voice seemed like those around her, but her manner was not. The way she did this was very amusing to the audience. Alex managed the uncomfortable feeling Eliza would have had perfectly. She seemed stiff and not very confident in herself, which I thought was perfect. During her speech lessons, she was very funny. Her movements, including the way she did little things like sigh seemed very melodramatic as though she was frustrated. I think that the controversial relationship between Eliza and Higgins was shown very well between both the actors.
For example, during the song, ‘Without You’, they’re saying how they’d cope without each other, but we know that really they can’t. I felt Alex was an excellent all rounder. Higgins’ accent was also excellent and maintained well even when singing, although I felt that he struggled in bringing the words across to the audience in some of the songs. His frustration in Eliza when she wouldn’t use the proper accent was brought across well. When he shouted at Eliza, he was right up next to her face and seemed to really ‘scare’ her.
His body language was also excellent in showing his frustration, especially in ‘Why Can’t the English? ’ He threw his arms around a lot. Nicholas’ performance as Pickering didn’t stand out to me as much as the others. He just seemed to say the lines and not put any energy into his performance. The fact that he didn’t have a very big part contributed towards this, also. However, his performance in ‘The Rain in Spain’ was excellent and Pickering’s excitement was really brought across in his dance movements.
This was a performance I liked as a whole anyway, because of the energy there was on stage. My overall impression of the show was that it was very good, but I feel as though it was let down at some points because of slips in the actors’ performances, but I felt that this was compensated by the other excellent performances at other times during the play. The story ends with a cliff hanger which I didn’t really like but had me thinking about the ending afterwards. It was very good and I would like to see it again or perform in it, mainly because I like the songs and the comedy in it.