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My Fair Lady (Susan Elkin reviews)

My Fair Lady

Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe

Ferrier Operatic Society

Bob Hope Theatre

 Star rating; 3

It’s everybody’s favourite show and we all know each and every one of Frederick Lowe’s engaging melodies. And in some ways, although it’s fun to do, and fun to see, it’s that familiarity which makes it hard to bring off. But, hey, the whole point of community theatre is taking part and working together and this show fizzes with the exuberance of that. And the themes of class, accent and identity are timeless.

David Maun is a fine Professor Higgins. Although he’s no singer and speaks most of his songs to music in the manner of Rex Harrison or Noel Coward,  he is an actor to his finger tips and knows exactly how to time every line, movement and twitch.

Helena Booer sings beautifully as Eliza Doolittle – she can do anger, wistfulness and excitement in song while making it sound glorious. I was, however, unconvinced by her raw Covent Garden accent.

The company’s best asset, though, is Vernon Leese as Alfred P Doolittle. He makes the part entirely his own – singing, dancing and being outrageous in a totally believable street accent. The “I’m getting married in the morning” sequence is one of this production’s highlights.

Director Barbara Archer and her cast have found ways of coaxing every last bit of humour out of this show and it’s much funnier than My Fair Lady often is. The projected back screens work well too – it’s probably quite low budget but seeing the glassy domes of Covent Garden, the turf at Ascot and a grand staircase for the ballroom scene is effective.

The thirteen-piece orchestra, tucked right under the stage as it has to be at the Bob Hope Theatre, does a generally pleasing job under David Stevens’s direction – woodwind and brass in particular. There were however, at the performamce I saw, some wobbly moments of timing and the orchestra is often too loud. The show requires the speaking of some dialogue over “background” music. Most of this was inaudible, drowned out by the orchestra, at least from where I was sitting in Row M.

Sadly some of the chorus work is beyond the modest capabilities of the sopranos in this company, especially in the “Poor Professor Higgins” interjections. The Ascot Gavotte, however, is excellent. It needs only perfect timing (watch the conductor) and crisp articulation and it gets both.

It’s always a treat to see My Fair Lady – and over the years I’ve experienced it many times at many levels (from a school production during my teaching years to English National Opera last year). And this production ticked lots of boxes despite a few flaws. I drove home singing – of course.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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