Monday, July 16, 2007
For Shaw, For Shaw
Apologies for the brief break in blogging, but I have been away for a few days. Work has been very work-y of late, so my flat mate and I decided to abandon London for a couple of days, to embark on a weekend of ambling, pootling, mooching and imbibing. In Bath, city of spas and crescents and, um, pretty little cobbley bits with pubs in. And, of course, theatre. Because there’s always time for theatre, especially given the fact that the annual Peter Hall season has just kicked off for the summer at the Bath Theatre Royal. So we booked tickets for Pygmalion on the Friday night. Yes, more Shaw. But having had my expectations welcomely upended by Saint Joan earlier in the week, I was eagerly anticipating this one.
After Marianne Elliott’s intelligent, pared down production at the National, this was as traditional a staging as it gets, with big, elaborate, leather arm-chair peppered sets and scene changes so lengthy that the red velvet curtains were forced to descend between acts.
The contrast was a welcome one; though stylistically as different as it gets, the plays made for a fascinating pairing and both productions excelled at drawing out Shaw’s considerable capacity for comedy. This was especially the case with Pygmalion. Hall’s rather reverential direction was helped along immensely by Michelle Dockery's spot-on performance as Eliza Doolittle. She nailed Eliza’s vowel-mangling cockney howl and also conveys the pathos of her transformation, torn from the world she knows and understands, but never able to be fully be at home in this new land of jewels and garden parties and making small-talk about the weather.
Tim Piggot-Smith was also excellent as Henry Higgins, with his baggy cardigan, slippers, and complete lack of desire to trouble himself with normal social niceties. The affection that grows between him and his protégé is subtle but genuine, though the production leaves you in no doubt as to the callousness of his behaviour towards her. The ending is abrupt, ambiguous, and emotionally raw. In the climactic scenes between Higgins and Eliza you ache for him to just bend a little, to do something, anything to make her stay. You know it would only take the smallest of gestures, but he is unable to give even that much and both he and the audience are left quietly bereft, realising he has most likely lost her for good.