With a musical as popular as My Fair Lady, audiences invariably go to see it with fixed preconceptions as to how it should be performed. In this production, directors Hannah Croft and Benedict Morrison have chosen not to stray too far from the direction and setting as they were intended, out of respect for the play in its original form and a desire not to put on another one of those hypermodern, edgy Oxford shows that seem to dominate the student drama scene. Based on the Pygmalion myth, the story of My Fair Lady is one with which most of us are familiar. The attempts of Henry Higgins (Gabriel Vick) to teach cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (Rachel Parris) correct diction and etiquette and then to pass her off as a member of the upper classes are central to the politically–charged story of class aspirations and divisions and personal snobbery. The fact that Henry falls in love with the Eliza he creates adds poignancy that is well exploited by the cast. This production could easily have fallen into the temptation to play up the camp value of the genre, but the low key approach that the directors have chosen allows the writing and songs freedom from cliché that they deserve. The main cast play exceptionally well together and their acting shows a level of enthusiasm and enjoyment that anything but forced. The self assurance in Gabriel Vick’s and Ferdinand Koenig’s performances is well complemented by the perfect comic foil of Benjamin Smyth. Parris is no Audrey Hepburn, but she brings her own fragile beauty and stubborn melancholy to Eliza, which proves utterly captivating. The chorus are well-choreographed enough not to descend into a chaotic fracas of cockney stereotypes, but their appearances can at times seem a little cluttered, the lack of enthusiasm in some of the cast jarring a little in comparison to the professionalism of the main players. A slight modification to the final scene adds the only major concession to modern values to the play with nod to post-feminist ideals, but works pleasingly well. All in all, a refreshingly organic performance with a self-assured style.
ARC HIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003

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