Wednesday 20 September 2023

Pygmalion - Review

Old Vic, London


Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Richard Jones

Patsy Ferran and Bertie Carvel

George Bernard Shaw may have written Pygmalion for the England of 1913, but in Richard Jones’ production that fuses Shaw’s original script along with his 1938 screenplay, this classic tale proves timeless. Bertie Carvel and Patsy Ferran are Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in what has to be one of the finest pairings to be found on stage.

Carvel’s ability to capture Higgins’ absolute genius in the world of phonetics,yet a bumbling, stifled fool when it comes to expressing his passion is sublime. It’s not just his pathos though, for, much like Higgins himself, Carvel exudes excellence in every word he annunciates - and look closely in act one, for there’s the occasional hint of his Miss Trunchbull on show too.

Ferran’s Eliza is more than a match for Carvel. Her transformation from a ‘deliciously low guttersnipe’ to a refined young woman is a masterclass of both talent and assured femininity, defining strength and independence in a world where the odds were (are?) so heavily weighted against her sex. 

The curious chemistry between Eliza and Higgins is one of theatre’s most delicate relationships, requiring actors of profound talent to capture Shaw’s delicately nuanced interplay. To witness these two performers at work is to capture a rare moment of on-stage excellence.

The supporting cast are top-notch too. Michael Gould as Colonel Pickering and Sylvestra Le Touzel as an inspired, wise and withering Mrs Higgins, are both wonderful.  John Marquez as the play’s other inspired creation Alfred Doolittle, a man who “can’t afford morals, guvnor” deftly mixes humour with satirical social comment in his outstanding cameo. A neat touch sees the play’s background music taken from the 1938 movie.

Pygmalion is drama at its finest. Perfect writing, perfectly performed.

Runs until 28th October
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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