Review: My Fair Lady
Written by Jamie Griffiths on March 24, 2023
Review: My Fair Lady
24/03/2023 – Palace Theatre, Manchester, by Tiffany Chevis
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the quirky story of My Fair Lady follows Eliza Doolittle, a London flower seller who dreams of a better life. Her path crosses that of Professor Henry Higgins, whose speciality is linguistics and – hearing her Cockney drawl – insists that he could train her to enunciate well enough to fool royalty. And thus begins a lesson in patience, acceptance, and being willing to change. Directed by Bartlett Sher, this latest production is filled with all the life and laughter of London streets in the early 1900s, where those with the least seem most fulfilled, and those with the most appear in desperate need of animation. With an enormous and intricate set by Michael Yeargan, it travels through avenues, race tracks, and the vast Higgins residence. Given the scale of the main set piece, an unexpected delay to proceedings shortly after the interval due to a malfunction was perhaps not surprising, but appreciation must be given to the stage management team under David Kane for the swift restoration.
Most people familiar with musical theatre will recognise the iconic numbers, with Alan J Lerner’s lyrics set to music by Frederick Loewe. The boisterous I’m Getting Married in the Morning, led by Adam Woodyatt as Alfred P Doolittle, is delightful chaos – with dancing girls, drunken friends, and a myriad of moving parts you almost don’t know where to look. Attempts to clap along are scuppered by the ever-changing tempo, and Christopher Gattelli deserves high commendation for the choreography. In contrast, the British stiff-upper-lip is given a well-deserved poke in the Ascot Gavotte, with the company assembled in bustles and top hats to observe the races – with not a single brow out of place or a pout un-puckered. The number gets increasingly ridiculous by its lack of expression, and yet also provides a moment of pause as the simplest and most static scene amidst the otherwise busy production.
Professor Henry Higgins is given a bouncing energy and effortless humour by Michael D. Xavier. Despite his incredible lack of tact and completely black and white take on the world, he is nevertheless entirely likeable. I’m an Ordinary Man, with its often-infuriating lyrics, showed Xavier’s impeccable characterisation with the audience hanging on every misguided word. Seeing his slow dishevelment as he uncovered more of Miss Doolittle was inevitable yet charming.
The object of his attention – Eliza Doolittle herself – was brought to us by Charlotte Kennedy. Throughout her transformation, there always remained that hopeful young woman trying to make things better. The two iterations of Just You Wait demonstrate the breadth of Kennedy’s dialect training, as well as the complex emotions that developed. A key supporting role was taken by John Middleton as Colonel Pickering, the reliable uncle-figure who added a softness and heart in the Higgins house – without him, the dynamics of the professor and pupil may have felt more strained. The housekeeper Mrs Pearce was played by Lesley Garrett, who provided a fortitude and affection in equal measure, as well as her remarkable vocal strength on the ensemble household numbers.
From Catherine Zuber’s intricate costumes, to the intricate orchestrations under Alex Parker’s direction, every aspect of My Fair Lady shows rigorous practice, excellent attention to detail, and the desire to articulate the story with the utmost care. Coming together into something truly lovely.
Get more information on My Fair Lady from the official site HERE.