My Fair Lady attracted a large audience on its first night, possibly due to its enduring reputation as a beloved ‘classic musical’.
If My Fair Lady conjures images of the Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison film in your mind, you’re almost definitely not alone. Emma Howlett’s production provides a refreshing update to that image, one that is at times a little confused, but nevertheless as heartwarming as its source material intends.
The most overwhelming impression I have from this show is one of green. Much like its promotional poster, the set is comprised entirely of false grass. The floor and even the upstage wall are comprised of a blank green canvas. This seemed at times a little difficult for the actors, as there wasn’t much for them to engage with, but it allowed for a revolving group of set pieces and therefore efficient transitions between scenes and locations.
Rarely for a show set in the ADC where there is no orchestra pit, the orchestra could largely not be seen on stage. They were generally obscured by black draping, although it was a stroke of genius to lift this during the ballroom scenes so that they could be incorporated into the action and establish the atmosphere. They performed brilliantly, both in the larger musical numbers, and also underneath dialogue to help create a more layered emotional tone. Their music punctuated and accompanied the meaning of the scenes excellently.
My Fair Lady isn’t a musical that has been defined by its musical numbers, per se (Rex Harrison, who starred as Henry Higgins on Broadway before being cast in the musical, was noted for ‘speak-singing’ all his music). However, Jonathan Iceton in particular does a great job of making his musical numbers memorable and, even with a comparatively small ensemble, making them seem large and sensational. The ensemble are generally excellent, and give great vocal support to the principle cast members. Brandon Lino, in particular, puts in a comedic turn that draws attention at times, and Sophie Dunning’s strong soprano harmonies were audibly delicious.
The principle cast members all also turned in good performances. Sophie Kean gave a bumbling air to Colonel Pickering that was very enthusiastic, if a little old by the end of the show. Liam Shinar was funny and charming as Freddie Eynsford-Hill, albeit a little underused due to the small size of his character’s role. Charlotte Horner had a huge task as the centrepiece of the production; at times her energy faltered a little under the pressure of carrying the momentum of the entire show, but she is set to continue to thrill as heroine Eliza Doolittle. The real scene-stealer, however, was Satvik Subramaniam as Henry Higgins. Subramaniam nailed the nuanced complexity of Higgins, acknowledging that he will not be a universally liked figure, but is nevertheless a character deserving of compassion.
Overall, Howlett’s production is a little bit hit-and-miss in places, but it will have you dancing all night, and that is why it is worth the watch.