Review: Pygmalion

Pygmalion stands out against the modern majority of DST’s Epiphany term; but that’s exactly what you’d want from DUCT. Exploring Georgian class hierarchy through an eccentric professor transforming a working class girl into the model of middle class, it offered a lot of what you would expect from the classical theatre on a classic play. Little jumped out as edgy or experimental, but this is not that kind of show, and while it did have some difficult moments, on the whole it offered a satisfying evening of theatre.

The production gave the audiences a definitive portrayal of George Bernard Shaw’s great work, bringing the audience into the restrictive middle class world through naturalism and immersion. The City Theatre offered the intimacy that, for the interior scenes, pulled the audience into the story. Being a smaller theatre, there were some practical limitations and these did lead to lengthy scene changes, which stifled some of the energy of the play, and a disengaging first scene. I found the opening scene to be a nervous start to the show that was nowhere near as engrossing as what would follow. A significant problem was the fact that some of the set behind showed through and created confusion about where the scene was taking place, but thankfully, this problem never arose again.

George Breare’s directorial vision gave us a standard version of this play with believable attention to detail which gave an excellent base for the true strength of this production to flourish – the acting. The performers really revealed their talent throughout and every actor on that had some great moments. The main energy of the play is carried by the subject Eliza Doolittle (Elana Kaymer) and Professor Henry Higgins (George Ellis), which was electric throughout. Kaymer’s range is a credit to her; from the sassy working class beginnings to the traumatic ending the intensity never dropped. Ellis’ eccentricity and development matched the scenes excellently whether it was comedic or tragic. The two had excellent chemistry and I think this came through particularly in the first few comedic scenes, which were some of my highlights.

David Fairborn (Colonel Pickering) gave a great contrasting persona to Ellis’ Higgins. The two had some excellent dialogue and gave a great insight into the relationship into the upper class patriarchy at the helm of the plot. Fairbairn’s sincerity and Ellis’ alienation, for their characters, evoked some great empathy on stage and some hearty laughs off. The Eynsford-Hill family, played by Molly Doyle, Christie Clark and Ram Gupta, worked well together too, looking down their noses at the rest of the cast and establishing a strong symbol for Shaw’s commentary.

Some isolated moments did cause the play to not flow as freely as would be liked. Some blocking choices felt forced and in some of the lengthier parts of dialogue the energy would suffer. Lighting too was used appropriately and sound was underused – a backing track for the scene changes could have helped maintained audience engagement during them. However, none of them detracted from the acting talent on stage which is something to be very grateful for.

In conclusion, I enjoyed what DUCT had to show and in some areas, particularly the comedy, it surpassed my expectations. The venue choice offers a unique experience in Durham and this play has great moments that showcase how it can be utilised with a strong play and a strong cast. The production distractions do not shroud this example of classical theatre and DUCT have done themselves proud with what they have achieved.

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