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Pygmalion review at Old Vic London

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“I’d never seen this play before, but it’s spot on. Spot on,” enthused the man in the row behind and certainly Peter Hall’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece mines the rich vein of class divide and socialist rhetoric.

This is largely due to Tim Pigott-Smith’s utterly irredeemable Henry Higgins. With him, Higgins is even more self-centred, boorish, and morally repugnant than Shaw wrote him. He loafs about the stage in the manner of a man happy at the centre of his own world and who doesn’t care who knows it. If bitterness were a colour, the stage would turn its shade.

Michelle Dockery’s Eliza Doolittle needs to be a strong performance to survive opposite him. And indeed it is. Her Eliza is the monster to his Frankenstein – a successful result to his experiment but with her true nature caged within the person they have created. There is something within her delivery that captures this perfectly. Even after becoming perfectly refined, Dockery’s Eliza retains some rhythm in her speech or cadence that is like an echo of the old Eliza screaming from within.

It creates a dynamite dynamic between the two and nowhere is this more explosive than in Act IV when they, together with James Laurenson’s gentle Colonel Pickering, return from the ball (but don’t sing I Could have Danced all Night). The inhumanity of Higgins towards his charge and the way in which the new Eliza grows from her own destruction is riveting.

While it starts slowly – something about the opening scene that belies this show’s touring routes – this production chimes out Shaw’s message with devastating accuracy.

Production Information

Old Vic, London, May 7-August 2

George Bernard Shaw
Peter Hall
Peter Hall Company
Cast includes
Michelle Dockery, James Laurenson, Tim Pigott-Smith, Una Stubbs, Tony Haygarth
Running time
2hrs 30mins

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