When I went: 5 April 2017
Location: Bridewell Theatre, London
Performers: Stephen Russell (Professor Henry Higgins), Mimi Kroll (Eliza Doolittle), Stephen Hewitt (Colonel Pickering), Patrick Harrison (Alfred P Doolittle), Annabel Watson (Mrs Pearce), Ed Curry (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Victoria Flint (Mrs Higgins), Janet Lurie (Mrs Eynsford-Hill), Will Howells (Professor Zoltan Karpathy)
Creative team: Daniel Penfold (director), Erika Gundesen (musical director), Lemington Ridley (choreographer/costumer designer), John Winters (production design and master carpenter), Blake Klein and Giles Burden (producers), Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics), Frederick Loewe (music), George Bernard Shaw (play), Geoids Musical Theatre
Approximate price: £18
Special points: Higgins
Best bit: The Rain in Spain / A Hymn to Him
If I could change one thing: Put interval earlier in the show
My Fair Lady has tons of hummable, memorable songs, iconic costumes (in the film version) and plenty of humour in its dialogue. It is also really, really long (over 3 hours if you have a normal-length interval).
The plot is dated, set in the early 20th century with a focus on the study of phonetics, of all things, but some things haven’t changed – you can still find extremes of wealth and poverty in the people milling around Covent Garden, people are still judged on the way they talk and the way they dress, and people still get trussed up for Ascot. There are some sexism problems in the plot – whatever they say, the men in Eliza’s life do essentially buy her company and time and she is treated like a doll to be played with – although this is at least acknowledged through a line or two from Mrs Higgins.
There is a massive second half dip in that there are several standout numbers in the first act and the second half mainly consists of reprises, with the notable exception of the brilliant A Hymn to Him. The lyrics of this song go some way to suggesting that Professor Higgins’ lack of romantic interest in Eliza is because he is actually gay, which is backed up by the constant references to Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering as ‘confirmed bachelors’, although there is also enough room to suggest that he and the Colonel simply want to be friends to Eliza and wouldn’t harbour romantic notions about a woman so much younger than themselves.
Having previously visited the Bridewell for The Boy Friend, I was interested to see how My Fair Lady worked on a small stage. The staging was mostly impressive, although there were a few moments when actors were walking on or off stage and were clearly visible to the audience before they were visible in the scene, which was mildly distracting.
Stephen Russell was great as Professor Higgins, giving a focused and detailed performance with lots of nuances; he especially shone in A Hymn to Him. Mimi Kroll was charming as Eliza, but I would have preferred a bit less vibrato in some of her songs, especially I Could Have Danced All Night; my favourite performance of hers was in The Rain In Spain, which felt a lot more natural. Ed Curry was wonderfully endearing as Freddy, with great lyricism in his performance of On the Street Where You Live, and Victoria Flint was very funny as Mrs Higgins, even if she looked a few decades too young to be playing Higgins’ mother.
The biggest issue with this performance was the pacing. I know that the work is a long one but I felt that for this kind of performance it would have been sensible to put the interval at an earlier stage – it fell almost 2 hours into the performance, which wasn’t ideal as the Bridewell’s seats are not massively comfortable when you are in one position on them for a long time. Cutting some of the overture and reprises, for instance of Get Me To the Church On Time, would have also saved more minutes overall.
There were a few other minor issues such as buzzing on the microphones and sound balance between singers and orchestra being slightly off, and occasional moments where the actors stepped on each other’s lines or entered scenes slightly late, but these things are not unusual when you are only in your second performance, as the cast were when I saw them.
Overall, this was an enjoyable production of a great musical and I would like to see more performances at the Bridewell, which is good if you want a slightly more informal atmosphere than in the West End theatres.