OMNI-LAYERED DRAMA WITH A MODERN TWIST
Witnessing the stubbornly loving interplay between Patrick McManus as Henry Higgins and Harveen Sandhu as Eliza Doolittle makes one’s heart blissful that classic theatre has returned for the summer.
And when you see what director Peter Hinton has done to capture the essence of playwright Bernard Shaw’s witty and wry omni-layered drama with a modern twist, you’ll marvel at the polished staging of it all while posing the question: Why can’t all the classics be like this?
Dialogue within Pygmalion, which pivots around a two bachelor, one-woman triangle, is adamantine ear glue. This is largely credited to Shaw’s fascination with social class and unwillingness to allow a single line to enter his script that won’t further the story.
At the crux of the story is an experiment of facetious phonetics that goes so right that everything ends up wrong. Henry Higgins and his cohort, Pickering (Jeff Meadows), go to great lengths to transform Eliza, the “plain little gutter snipe” who sells flowers in the market, by softening the vowels and hardening the consonants of her notable accent.
“Do any of us understand what we’re doing? If we did, would we do it,” asks the ultra insensitive Higgins in response to Eliza’s decision to go ahead with the linguistic makeover.
Six months go by and it’s time for Eliza’s coming out party, an alpha test of sorts. It’s only now does the audience realizes that you can take the girl out of the market but you can’t take the market out of the girl.
When the jig is up, she is heartbroken to learn that her fate is to return to her point of origin. However, this time around she sees the world with new eyes.
“The difference between a lady and a flower girl isn’t how she behaves but how she is treated,” laments a deeply offended Eliza over the realization she was merely an object of examination.
As Henry Higgins, Patrick McManus validates why he is the alpha and omega of stage talent. He buoyantly redefines what it means to be aloof as the nutty professor whose cruel-to-be-kind methodology raises the eyebrows of many a theatergoer.
What a leap of faith for Harveen Sandhu now in her third season at the Shaw Festival. You knew she had the talent to get this far but cultivating that natural inventiveness for acting was another hurdle. Under the watchful eye of the director, she’s made Eliza Doolittle the fragile dreamer the playwright would have envisioned the role to be played.
So how exactly has Peter Hinton been able to buff this Bernard Shaw gem to look like such a glittering contemporary prize? For starters, he delivers a briskly paced production with the highest of standards.
Pygmalion is a timeless class-conscious drama with a heap of laughs. The playwright’s intricately balanced view of social ethos and class ambidexterity is the level of noble architecture that helps us to appreciate that little in life, if anything, is truly cut and dry.
Review by Jordan Allystair
PYGMALION by Bernard Shaw May 31- October 24, 2015 FESTIVAL THEATRE, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario TICKETS $25.00 – $116.00