The Muizenberg Amateur Dramatic Society tackle Pygmalion. Pictures: Detlef Basel
The Muizenberg Amateur Dramatic Society tackle Pygmalion. Pictures: Detlef Basel

PYGMALION. Four act play by George Bernard Shaw (GBS). Directed by Sue Wilkes. Presented by Muizenberg Amateur Dramatic Society (MADS). At The Masque Theatre until 16 March 2019.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

MADS Chairperson Di Thom’s comment that hugely increased royalties for contemporary plays has sent amateur dramatic societies searching for good plays without rights is valid. It’s the reason behind Sue Wilkes decision to direct George Bernard Shaw’s famous four-act play Pygmalion. GBS wrote it in 1913 – well out of copyright fees.

As is commonly known Pygmalion is the play on which Lerner and Loewe based their multi-award winning musical and film My Fair Lady. So it’s more to those adaptations with which one (generally) associates Pygmalion rather than GBS’s straight play.

Richard Higgs as Professor Higgins
Richard Higgs as Professor Higgins

A jolly good effort

Therein lies a snag. No straight stage production can equal the musical or film’s magnificence. Yet audience’s still look for similar sets costumes and a Julie Andrews, Audrey Hepburn or Rex Harrison look-alike in principal roles. Not possible. However Wilkes and her cast made a jolly good effort.

The first difficulty appeared in the opening Covent Garden scene, where individuals from the crowd  stood virtually immobile and spoke almost inaudibly. Things perked up when Eliza (Laurie Todes) burst onto the stage selling her flowers and Richard Higgs as Professor Higgins, started showing Colonel Pickering (kindly Aubrey Hindle) how he recorded Eliza’s ghastly Cockney accent.

Higgs, rather than emulating Harrison, applied his own intellect to understanding the layers within Higgins’ character. Restless, cynical and sarcastic, no wonder Eliza threw his slippers at him.

Eliza Doolittle, with its accent ranges, lengthy soliloquy, and behavioural changes from guttersnipe to lady would tax any experienced actress, let alone a young woman standing at on the brink of a professional acting career.

Todes’  gave a very credible performance. However Wilkes needs to smooth out a little of Todes flower seller brashness that intruded into her lady-like metamorphosis.

In their roles as Mrs Pearce and Mrs Higgins Eve Carr and Sandy Gee were excellent. Carr knew exactly how to handle Henry Higgins. And in her attractive costumes and simple hairstyle Gee crafted a picture how a lady of genteel birth behaves. And how firmness is the way to control a bad mannered son.

Shaw is a brilliant writer. Pygmalion is witty, clever and it proved an interesting exercise to hear how many lines Alan Jay Lerner lifted out to fit Frederick Loewe’s music for My Fair Lady’s score. Shaw’s writing is where the worth of this Pygmalion production lies.

Cape Town theatre: https://weekendspecial.co.za/stage-on-the-boards/
What: Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw
Who: Muizenberg Amateur Dramatic Society MADS
When: Until 16 March 2019
Where: The Masque Theatre Muizenberg Cape Town
Pygmalion tickets: www.computicket.co.za
WS