Ignore the obscure half-page summary in the programme and discard all prior knowledge of Shaw or Lerner and Loewe. It won’t help.
Carina Braunschmidt, Graham F Valentine and Karl-Heinz Brandt in Meine Faire Dame at Lowland Hall, Edinburgh Photo: Judith Schlosser
Rather than deconstruct Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, director-with-a-mission Christoph Marthaler has simply used the play/musical as a launchpad for a comic experience that, whether it grabs your laughter muscles or not, is guaranteed to leave you leaving with an opinion.
This wizard cast clearly had immense fun devising the show with Marthaler. Garbed in dorky late 1970s clothing, they work their way across Anna Viebrock’s impressively dingy language lab, flanked by a Hammond organ, manned by Frankenstein’s monster (Mihai Grigoriu), and a grand piano, keyed by an even scarier kappelmeister (Bendix Dethleffsen). A cantankerous consonantal TEFL teacher (Graham F Valentine) shuffles on and puts his beheadphoned students in the booths through their phonetic paces.
Songs trigger slapstick forays from the near balletic dialogue - all in English or German: a failed audition of Silent Night (Karl-Heinz Brandt and the platinum-voiced Tora Augestad), Wham’s Last Christmas, staccato vocalese, sinister karaoke (Carina Braunschmidt) - and every time the charlady (Nikola Weisse) opens her mouth the other ingrates vanish in fear. The first language lesson is reprised in German, with Wagner’s Parsifal crooned by Michael von der Heide. And then, when you’ve almost given up waiting, in burst snippets of hits from the real My Fair Lady, charged with new meaning (precisely what, I have no idea obviously).
Vaguely identifiable themes include the change in semantics of words across the different spectrums of language, the Professor Higgins-Eliza Doolittle complex played out across the various combinations and ages of the lab couples, the interplay of space (= movement) and time (= music), and there is music, well, for music’s wonderful sake.
What you’re observing - and, crucially, hearing - are strands that coexist and are probably only significant because they contribute to one vision. You are forced to listen and watch in equal measure - but be warned, although there are beginnings, middles and ends, it might be distracting to piece them all together. Welcome then to the sport of Extreme Lecoq, hitting you at levels that the kids today coming out of Paris can only dream of. And wickedly funny with it.