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Steven Pacey in My Fair Lady - Review by Nic Best

Steven Pacey as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady
8th July 2021, at The Grange Festival, Hampshire

Review by Nic Best

Letís get one thing straight. If Eliza comes from Lisson Grove she is NOT a Cockney. Also the title is a pun on Cockney pronunciation (Mayfair Lady, as Wimpole Street where Professor Higgins lives is in the West End of London). Now Iíve got that off my chest I can review the production.

Geographical sniping aside, the tale of the ugly ducking turning into a swan is timeless, as are the lush musical tributes to London and its environs by Lerner and Loewe.

By necessity as the production was only on for three performances (with two later ones in Spain) it was a concert version, but was none the poorer for that. The production was made even more pleasurable by the fact that the festival was part of the government's Covid-19 testing scheme, so no masks or social distancing was required, something that enhanced the visit as far as I was concerned.

The beautiful acoustics in the small theatre at the Grange caressed every note of the score and the performance got off to a rousing start with the overture performed by the ever-reliable Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alfonso Casado Trigo with aplomb. The chorus here at the Grange is more used to performing to opera scores, but was clearly enjoying itself hugely as the songs were belted out with gusto and clarity.

The cast were placed on chairs in front of the orchestra (on stage rather than in a pit), they were miked (in places) because of this, but Iím pretty sure all the experienced cast could have managed without.

Steven as the irascible, boorish Higgins spat the vowels and consonants out at Eliza with the speed of a machine gun, relishing every epithet. Icy and imperious though he is, Higgins is more socially inept than Eliza in many ways and sees nothing wrong in his behaviour. He is usually played by actors with barrels of charm to help alleviate some of this behaviour. Steven joined that list, instilling into the part the much needed humanity. Higgins is often played by non-singing actors so it was a treat to hear Steven singing, and putting colour and life into every song. At the final scene with Eliza he was incredibly touching as Higginsí carefully constructed walls start to crumble.

Ellie Laugharne was Eliza. There arenít too many actresses/singers who play this role who are entirely comfortable with the radical changes between the flower girl and the debutante, and this proved to be true here as well. She did reasonably well in the early scenes, but was far happier and more natural in the later scenes with some lovely singing in a rich vibrato.

Freddy, Elizaís hopeful beau, was played by Nadim Naaman. He was good looking and sung well, but didnít leave me with much of an impression. Although the part calls for nice but dim, you do need a spark of passion there, and it wasnít on show as much as it should have been.

Peter Polycarpou was Alfred Doolittle, Elizaís conniving father. A barnstorming performance this - full of guile, cheek, and joie de vivre. Richard Suart was the kind and paternal Colonel Pickering. A veteran of Gilbert and Sullivan, he was crystal clear throughout with impeccable timing. Susie Blake must rate as the hardest working actor on the stage playing three distinct roles. A street trader like Eliza in the first scene, then alternating between Mrs Pearce the housekeeper and Mrs Higgins, Henryís long-suffering mother. Each part was carefully crafted and expertly played in different tones, voices and mannerisms.

Minor carping aside, it was a superb performance of a much loved classic. The only sadness is that it couldnít have run for longer as it would have provided the tonic we all need at the moment!

***

You can watch a clip from the show on YouTube here: The Rain in Spain

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