Theatre Review: My Fair Lady
***- A rather fair show for Â£25.
My Fair Lady, Cambridge Arts Theatre, 1-10 October
George Bernard Shaw, the writer of the play Pygmalion on which My Fair Lady is based, all round literary genius and notorious womaniser, once said that “hell is full of musical amateurs.”
Although this was a good production with a largely talented cast I could not help thinking that there was some truth in his words as I watched a watered down version of a literary masterpiece be variously acted and punctuated by a hammy chorus of rather attractive dancing girls.
My Fair Lady is not a bad musical as far as they go. There are some wonderful truisms and there some remnants of Shaw’s famous wit left in. Equating ladies who’s career plan is to marry to prostitutes, Mr Dolittle not being able to ‘afford morals’ are just a taste of what might have been had Lerner and Lowe left well alone and we were watching the original Pygmalion. Yet the story of a young flower girl passing herself off as royalty just because she is taught to speak in a posh accent is at least a musical with something to say. Accent prejudices still haven’t exactly gone away, as most students here will know, if you are well spoken and tell people you’re at Cambridge people believe most of the crap that comes out of your mouth.
This particular production of My Fair Lady, I’m afraid to say would not have changed old G.B. Shaw’s opinions of musical amateurs. It was by no means a bad production, in places it was really excellent yet there were some performances that we really rather lacklustre and some that were quite frankly and insult to an audience that have just paid £25 a ticket, most notably Sian Spencer’s Mrs Higgins. I don’t know how many different facial expressions it is possible to cram into one line of speech but Spencer has surely broken a record. At the other end of the spectrum there were performances like that of stand-in Brad Fitt in the role of Alfred P. Dolittle who it seems does not consider his facial muscles to be in any way relevant to his acting.
Luckily such dreadful performances were in the minority, I was impressed with the outstanding amateur orchestra conducted by Cambridge graduate Julian Black, the excellent performances of Henry Higgins (Phil Pritchard) and Colonel Pickering (Graham Hoardly)as well as the general musical ability of the whole cast, which was, for an amateur production really outstanding. Pritchard and Hoardly really did carry the show with a superb double act which was both witty and thought provoking. Gorgeous Robyn North’s Eliza was equally impressive even if she was not able to make her sudden transition from grubby east end ‘gutter snipe’ to a well mannered, well spoken princess passable for the Queen of Sheba entirely believable, North did manage to wow the audience with her outstanding voice and managed some genuinely moving moments in the scenes with Henry Higgins.
A particular mention ought to go to Ned Stuart-Smith who although much younger and less experienced that the rest of the cast delivered an excellent performance in the role of Freddy Eysnford-Hill, putting some of the older members of the cast to shame.
All in all it was without a doubt a good production. Yet what bugs me is that the Cambridge arts theatre has the cheek to charge £25 a ticket when they’re not even paying most of the actors, or the orchestra. Where I ask is all this money going? At £25 a ticket it really should have been outstanding and it wasn’t, it was just good. See this show if you like your musicals and are happy to pay through the nose for it, but when you can see any number of equally good or better shows in Cambridge (particularly at the ADC) for less than half the price, I am not sure that the Arts Theatre deserves your money.