The Queen’s College has spared no expenses in staging Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical My Fair Lady this week, under the direction of Raymond Blankenhorn. Boasting a black tie opening night, a twenty piece orchestra, fifty costumes, and taking place in Queen’s stunning Provost’s Gardens, it looks set to be one of the classiest affairs this Trinity.
Certainly no Antigone, this ‘tally ho!’ production is playing it safe in pleasing the punters. Eliza Doolittle’s iconic rags-to-riches tale ticks all the boxes: cockney accents abound, as do cucumber sandwiches in the drawing room, sparkling humour and a good old fashioned knees-up.
Raymond Blankenhorn, a native New Yorker, may conceal his American twang in the plummy tones of Henry Higgins onstage, but reveals his designs in combining the Hollywood glamour of the movie with the theatrical feel of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Blankenhorn’s vision translates well to the garden play: flower girls meandering through the aisles, patter merchants guarding the gates and royal announcers introducing the ball-going audience all bring a sense of fun and meta-light heartedness. The gorgeous grounds can only contribute to the atmosphere of the evening, and an innovative use of space makes the best of the garden’s natural features as well as including a raised stage.
Elizabeth Grew’s musical direction will do well to be matched by equally first-rate choreography, the Blues ballroom squad have been drafted to make sure the cast will be able to dance, dance, dance all night.
The Queen’s-heavy cast is well up to the task of bringing the musical to life: a feisty Elizabeth Burrowes does justice to the part of Eliza Doolittle, but really proves her mettle belting out her solo numbers with flair and gusto. Blankenhorn’s Henry Higgins, too, shines in particular during musical sequences where heightened characterisation comes to the fore, but also manages to maintain an engagement with the script and nuance during scenes, at times lacking in Burrowes’s performance. Kate Lewin gives a star turn as, confusingly, both Doolittle’s father and Higgins’s mother. Lewin brings humour to both roles as well as an awareness of the play’s wider themes of self-acceptance, tolerance and ambition.
In as much taste as befits the beautiful surroundings, My Fair Lady promises to be an enjoyable and decorous garden play – it won’t blow the roof off the gazebo, but can guarantee good British fun.
Verdict: Just you wait for it.