REVIEW: Pygmalion, University Drama Studio

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Director Alan Wade has truncated George Bernard Shaw’s famous tale of social engineering into a more digestible slice, upping the pace but keeping the absorbing and entertaining elements of the original.

Modern audiences may find Henry Higgins’s phonetics experiment, endeavouring to raise Eliza Doolittle above her station, morally and ethically dubious. It is precisely these questionable middle class attitudes and in particular Higgins’s emotional emasculation that Shaw is lampooning.

Conversely, the working class characters are strong and intelligent. Johannah Cook is excellent as Eliza. She drops her H’s like confetti, as a brassy, Cockney lass and maintains her dignity during her rather unceremonious and condescending transformation into a lady. Her affected new accent and body language are wonderfully portrayed. Ken Rowe’s Alfred Doolittle lacks education but is as sharp as a tack. His diatribe about his descent into middle class morality is hilarious and well observed.

Women are seen in a positive light. Alison Munro’s Mrs Higgins is great as she highlights her son’s insensitivity. Higgins’s maid, played by Emma Portus is on hand to alert Higgins to the psychological impact of his dangerous experiment.

Neil Sullivan’s Pickering provides an ally and a voice of encouragement for Higgins’ scheme.

John Ansari is in fine form as single-minded but crass Higgins. He’s like a bull in a china shop with people’s feelings but reveals a chink in his armour as he admits affection for Eliza in their epic final showdown.

Just like Pygmalion, Henry falls in love with his creation but misses the power within completely.