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My Fair Lady review at Mill on Sonning – ‘resourceful and imaginative’

The cast of My Fair Lady at the Mill at Sonning. Photo: Geraint Lewis. The cast of My Fair Lady at the Mill at Sonning. Photo: Geraint Lewis.
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Encouraged by the reception of High Society last year, the same creative team has returned to the Mill at Sonning, with Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 classic My Fair Lady.

It’s a show that comes with a vast amount of baggage, not least the memorable performances from Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the original stage production, the MGM movie that followed, and the award-winning design by Cecil Beaton that featured in both.

Joseph Pitcher’s production may owe a debt to all of these as well as the National’s 2001 production but his use of both limited space and means is exemplary.

The intimacy of the Mill’s stage allows Pitcher to draw the audience deeper into Eliza Doolittle’s world. The sense of poverty and desperation is magnified. The social division that’s such a major theme of both Shaw’s original play and Lerner’s adaptation is made to seem greater and more resonant.

The interplay between Bethan Nash’s tenacious flower girl Eliza and Martin Fisher’s clinically detached phonetics professor Henry Higgins is also amplified. Famously the show offers no cut-and-dried resolution to their co-dependency but here, even after nearly three hours, you crave an epilogue. Charlie Ingles’ inventive orchestrations adapt the rich score to suit a five-piece band and the cast of only 12 double – and occasionally treble – seamlessly.

Michael Holt’s elegant design hints at Covent Garden’s ironwork tracery but otherwise keeps the stage clear, allowing space for Pitcher’s consistently inventive choreography. There are a few issues with sound quality but they are a trifle in what otherwise is a masterclass in paring down a major musical for a small stage.

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Resourceful and imaginative pared-down version of Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway classic