Happy 60th birthday, A.D.C! And how better to celebrate than by staging this towering masterpiece of world theatre. (That's what I think of it, anyhow). The omens were good: some most interesting and informative notes in the programme; delicious mulled wine; and a very friendly welcome from f.o.h.staff. And much else was in the 'credit' column. The show was nicely lit, featured some good props, benefited from Malcolm Ross's cleverly triple-faceted set, and deployed several splendid frocks.
Director Colette Lardner-Browne, of course, always seems to bring home the bacon. Among the things with which one credited her this time were: the text being delivered with good pace but with admirable clarity throughout; actors being generally well positioned; the covering of set changes - an imaginative touch, this - with recorded extracts of Higgins's teaching, complete with 'genuine' period hisses and scratches; and the subtlety with which the relationship between Higgins and his mum was touched in.
Quibbles? Well, yes, a few - or else I shan't sound impartial. I didn't think the choice of opening music added anything, whereas something appropriate might just have blasted us right into the swing of things at the start of both halves. Then there was Pickering's big cross early in the second half; those slippers; and the prompts which, inevitably, kiboshed the moments into which they intruded. 'Give up having a prompter', say I. It concentrates the mind wonderfully. Finally, I thought a few perfectly clear lines were underscored, needlessly, with gestures.
Enough nit-picking. Among the cast I especially enjoyed Jon Crowley's Higgins (underplayed in the best sense of the word, with a most natural laugh and wholly believable as this complex man); Ruth Collins's outstanding account of Eliza (very funny in the first half, but always truthfully so, and very touching thereafter); and Rod Newman's impressive, rather profound, serio-comic Doolittle.
Enough individualising too, no doubt. It was a real joy to hear Shaw's brilliant, brilliant dialogue relished by all the company. The interest of a full audience never flagged (as I am told can sometimes happen with this author); and both our intellects and our emotions were thoroughly engaged. I was most grateful to have been invited.
'Squawks and flounces' cockney girl a delight
It's always a pleasure to see George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, to be reminded of how much sharper and funnier the play is than high profile spin-offs like My Fair Lady and Pretty Woman.
On its opening night, the Abingdon Drama Club, in its sixtieth anniversary year, played to a packed house.
The star of the show is Ruth Collins as Eliza Doolittle. Her cockney flower girl, all squawks and flounces, dominates the stage, and she manages beautifully the dramatic shift from Eliza's "deliciously low" accent to the cut glass vowels of an Edwardian duchess. Collins is completely hilarious in Eliza's transitional phase, when she shocks polite society with her impeccable pronunciation of luridly inappropriate small talk.
Her body language too, both before and after Henry Higgins' heartless makeover, marks her out as an accomplished comic actress.
This is a traditional, no gimmicks production which allows Shaw's wit and polemic to shine through. Rod Newman's Alfred Doolittle, for instance, is not simply a comic turn; the sinister side of his treatment of Eliza, and his eloquent defence of the undeserving poor, is played straight. But there are also some clever innovations by director Colette Lardner-Browne especially the highly successful ploy of playing authentically crackly phonograph recordings of Eliza and Higgins' phonetics lessons to cover the scene changes.
Neither director nor actors can do much to mitigate the deliberate perversity of Shaw's denouement.
But even its celebrated anti-climax could not detract from the audience's very evident enjoyment of the play.
Heather O'Donoghue - Abingdon Herald - 25/11/04