MY FAIR LADY

Date 3rd February 2018
Society Ballywillan Drama Group
Venue Riverside theatre, Coleraine
Director Brian Logan
Musical Director Eric Boyd
Choreographer Sharon Logan

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Author: Sheelagh Hobart

Originally opening on Broadway in 1956, followed in 1958 by the West End opening My Fair Lady has won numerous awards right through to the most recent revival in London 2001. A Broadway revival is planned for April this year. The show has become one of many people’s all-time favourites but has not been performed often by amateur companies in recent years, probably due to the influx of new shows which have captured their attention.

Brian Logan’s permanent set was authentic – curved staircases on either side of the stage joined by a ‘bridge’ which was very well used in company scenes but mostly it was the domain of Professor Higgins. Above the bridge were glass panels which were always atmospherically lit and revealed the top of the Opera house in the opening scene and later, a horse and jockey silhouette at Ascot. Props were well sourced – desk, wing chair, chaise longue and gramophone recorders for Higgins’ study – although I did not like the positioning of the latter on the stairs necessitating Higgins to weave around them when using those stairs. Possibly it was to indicate the clutter in his study? Double doors at extreme left were left open and draped for Ascot etc. I loved the ‘smoke’ from the brazier chimney in Covent Garden. As one can expect from Brian, the stage was expertly lit – always easily visible although few scenes take place in full daylight – area specials were good and I liked the heavy rain effect. Sound was also good with body mikes on cue and balance between orchestra and stage assured. Costumes by Utopia were appropriate – Ascot’s black & white were impressive, especially the hats. Wigs and hair styles were mostly correct period.

Katie Patton made a delightful Eliza. She was totally believable from cheeky Cockney right through to becoming a ‘lady’. Her animated face and twinkling eyes showed every mood - exuberance, sensitivity, anger and so forth.

“Just you wait!”, “I could have danced all night”, “Hymn to him”, showed her vocal versatility as she transformed easily from one singing style to another. Katie also moved easily and related well to the differing characters around her. She and Alan McClarty as Higgins had great onstage rapport. Alan was a ‘shoe-in’ for the role of the pompous phonetics professor – sometimes reminiscent of Rex Harrison and sometimes very much his own man. His assured performance was totally professional, and his musical numbers very well delivered. Colonel Pickering (Paul Sleet) was also very well cast, providing a calm foil to Higgins’ misogynistic tendencies. Richard Mairs was at his best as the colourful dustman Alfred P.Doolittle in spite of having a broken foot! His walking stick became a valuable prop as well as enabling him to move around the stage although he had to leave the dancing to his two sidekicks – Jamie (Patrick O’Connor) and Harry (Matt Suddaby) – who fulfilled their roles with great energy.

Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs Pearse, was played by Laura Fisher. She looked a little youthful for the role (a more severe hairstyle would have helped) but executed all her duties in the required fashion. Stalwart actress Olive Hemphill was perfect as Mrs Higgins – the matriarchal figure who finds her son extremely frustrating. She delivered her lines with aplomb! Aristocratic friend Mrs Eynsford-Hill (Maelisa Cunning) was a credible controlling mother to Freddie (Peter Easton), who becomes smitten with Eliza after her appearance at their Ascot box. Peter had a pleasing voice for “On the street where you live” and conveyed the rather silly snob with comical levity. Jim Everett, as George the bartender and Professor Zoltan Karpathy, was energetic as the former and enigmatic as the latter. Other supporting roles were all well covered – having played a maid several times, I noticed their harmonies and co-ordination! The Ensemble, which included some gymnastic dancers, were fully engaged in the action and added much to the production numbers such as “Wouldn’t it be loverly”, The Ascot Gavotte” and “Get me to the Church”. Sharon choreographed lively routines for the whole cast while Laura focused on Principal movement – both very successfully. Eric Boyd’s large orchestra was, as usual, placed at the side of the stage. Although rather cramped, theirs was a polished performance absolutely in sympathy with the stage.

I could see the energy that Brian invested in the production – just surprised that he had not directed it before! It is a lengthy piece which, when well done which it was, does not drag. However, I do think that the Embassy Ball adds nothing except length, as everything that happens is discussed in the next scene! A judicious cut, which many directors employ, would have saved another set of costumes and shortened the show by 10 minutes!! Brian is convinced that, despite the misogyny portrayed by Higgins, the relationship between Eliza and him becomes very close – perhaps even love! He nearly convinced me!!

It was really lovely to see My Fair Lady again after quite a few years. Well worth the journey from Bangor. My thanks to all concerned.