Report Author: Nathan Benson Many thanks to The Fylde Coast Players for inviting me along to see their production of Pygmalion on Saturday March 2023 at the Lowther Theatre, Lytham. On my way to the theatre I was speaking to my mother who enlightened me that this was the play which the notorious musical My Fair Lady was based on. A couple of Googles and a flick through the programme later, I was super excited to see this wonder story told in a way I had yet to see, and Fylde Coast Players did not disappoint.
For those unfamiliar, the show tells the rags to riches story of Eliza Dolittle, a flower girl from London’s West End, who turns up at Henry Higgins’ home after meeting him and discussing elocution lessons, with an ambition of being able to work in a florist shop as opposed to selling on the street sides. Mr Higgins and his friend, Colonel Pickering, work their magic and Eliza is but to the test at an aristocrat ball, where she passes the objective of being taken for a lady amongst the aristocratic hosts. There is quite a different ending to the musical production of the story, but I won’t divulge those spoilers, to me, this piece has a much stronger ending though. Along this journey we gain insight into Eliza’s relationship with herself, society, and the characters within the story, and tackles some clear socio-political themes of feminism, male-centric dominance, and class divisions within the early 1900’s, when this work is set.
The work was expertly directed by Mandy Laird-Hall who wove together a flowing and dynamic piece of theatre which ebbed and flowed perfectly with the pace of the storyline. She brought together some strong characterisations, mostly played naturalistically, which blended greatly with a genuine rapport between the players. With this, she fused wonderfully creative design elements, more on this to be discussed later, and utilised the spacing dynamically which kept the work visually interesting and stimulating, subtly drawing out and holding the mirror up to the audience on the key themes the work and narrative address.
The design of the piece was a work of genius. There were 4 different locations of setting within the piece. Scene 1 was in the streets of London in which a gauze was used flooded with a light blue wash which gave a lovely impressionist opening to the production, a scene set at the Ambassador’s Masked Ball, which had a similar suggestive feel to it and utilised vibrant pink and orange floods on the backdrop. There were 4 scenes set within Mr Higgins’ laboratory, which was created through painted flats with detail added to the decoration, such as a grammar phone on the desk which added to the themes of the production. Before the Masked Ball scene, the middle flats split in the centre to reveal Eliza in her looking simply wonderful in her ballgown. The other location within the production was in Mrs Higgins’ flat which was decorated with pink wallpaper, a fireplace attached to the flats, and décor detailing the higher class of this character. Before the final scene, the audience was given the pleasure of the set change between the Lab and the flat, with stage lights on. This is when the genius of the design was revealed, the flats spun and glided, with graceful engineering, which seamlessly had the full set for the opposing scene on the reverse. I also particularly liked the sound effects and the inter-scene music, which were key songs from the musical, bring with them remembrances of the film. Costumes were very detailed with great differentiations between the classes, highlighting these themes well, all were fitting to the context of the piece and to the characters.
Now to the cast, as noted before there was a good rapport between all the players, who looked very comfortable and competent within their roles. Eliza Dolittle was played by Emily Cartmell who gave a very solid performance throughout the production. She played the role with a wonderful energy and was very expressive consistently. She took the character on a wonderful and honest journey, and I loved the distinct contrast in the Eliza created for the opening of the piece and the Eliza who materialised, but still holding the open, powerful and ambitious values the character requires to retain to ensure the messaging of the work is delivered. Mrs Higgins, Henry’s mother, was played by Rosemary Roe who was simply fabulous in this part. She brought great charisma to the role and was quite authoritative with in the role. Mrs Pearce was played by Kath Greenwood who provided a wonderful characterisation, was served as a kind of stop gap between the class divides of Mrs Higgins and the original Eliza. All 3 of these characters show contrasting strong females in society which fit perfectly to delivering the feminist themes.
Mr Higgins was played by Andy Cooke. Having seen Andy in a few productions now, his superb performance did not surprise me. He was quite simply wonderful to watch with strong characterisation, presence, and gravitas. He added consistent idiosyncrasies, verbally with inflections and physically with gesticulations. Colonel Pickering was played by Tim Greenwood who was charming and attentive and had a great naturalistic style to his performance. What I loved about both Tim and Andy’s performances was how both characterisations epitomised the textual description from Eliza within the final scene of both these character’s qualities. Alfred Dolittle, Eliza’s father, was played by Philip Allan who gave a strong characterisation for the sub-plot of the work. I loved how he retained his thick cockney accent throughout the piece, as was a great contrast to that of Eliza whose accent changed with her social position. There were a couple of times Philip broke the fourth wall and appeared to address the audience directly, rather than the characters he was talking to. Personally, I would have preferred the fourth wall to have been retained throughout to keep consistence to the piece. In a similar tone, Richie Reed played Freddy Hill, which to me was played a little too caricature, notably with ‘toffy’ laughs, which I feel would have been better played naturalistically to keep consistency of style for the acting. This being said, he had a great energy and presence.
Ciara Hill and her mother, Mrs Eynsford Hill, were played by Emma Crompton and Teresa Mallabone who gave great performances and delivered well messaging of how expectation of society had developed within the generations. The Ambassador and his wife were played by Richard Spilman and Anne Cruden who gave great characterisations and brought some nice humour to this scene. Finishing the cast were Jen Greaves, Stella Rawnsley and Kieran O’Doherty who played multiple roles and brought some great animation to the background of the scenes with their business. In summary, this was a fantastic production by the Fylde Coast Players which I am certain was enjoyed by all who watch the piece. Thanks again for inviting me and I look forwards to seeing Death Trap in October 2023.