My Fair Lady, famously based on Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion tells the heart-warming tale of cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, given lessons by phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins so he can win a bet by passing her off in society.
GEOIDS' production, on this week at the Bridewell Theatre, is the first non-professional production in London for a long while - although you would hardly guess this is an amateur show.
Debut GEOIDS Director, Daniel Penfold makes clever use of the bridewell's performance space which even extends into the balcony area in scenes such as the busy Covent Garden opening spectacle. The balcony area - which surrounds what used to be a Victorian swimming pool - also houses the fabulous 13-piece orchestra expertly led by musical director, Erika Gundesen. It's rare in amateur shows that the sound balance achieves perfection especially when the ensemble are also 'miked-up' but what a treat!
The deep stage is nicely utilised by the production team ensuring maximum effect from the large company numbers. But such is the Bridewell's set-up, the principals are also able to use the downstage area effectively - Wouldn’t it be Loverly and Just You Wait being two such examples enabling Eliza to connect with the audience
The production is spectacular, with Lemington Ridley's visually appealing costume design, a real achievement in a show with so many period requirements. Lemington, also responsible for the stunning choreography makes full use of GEOIDS ensemble work; energetic and tight... and a nice change to see some good male amateur dancers. One can usually pick out one or two weaker members of the ensemble but not here, the Ascot scene being a particular highlight. The staccato movement of heads is timed to perfection, the result of hours of hard work in the rehearsal room.
The design, under the guidance of John Winters, is well worth all the planning and very effective. The innovative use of the library steps in Higgins’ study being a stand-out feature. Praise too must go to the production team for the unobtrusive scene changes – sometimes whilst key action is continuing (perfectly typified during I Could Have Danced All Night).
A tiny bit of microphone interference during the second act wasn't enough to affect Adrian Jeakins' excellent sound design. The subtle background sound effects during the Covent Garden scene are very well done. Accordingly, Francis Clegg (design) and Simon Bateman (operator) also deserve praise for their slick lighting. I particularly liked the lighting effects in I’m An Ordinary Man.
Performance-wise, as mentioned the ensemble work is superb. I particularly noted the ‘passing of time’ scene with the servants. In a well-rehearsed and near-professional company Tal Hewitt would get my vote where every movement is a show in itself!
Of the principals, Mimi Kroll as Eliza Doolittle is outstanding, with her transition from cockney to socialite appearing easy. Kroll's voice suits the role and she sings with conviction, energy and emotion. Her natural movement almost looks unchoreographed.
Stephen Russell as Higgins seems to grow into the part throughout the performance with the balance between arrogance and vulnerability well portrayed. His extremely clear dialogue - even when speaking at pace -is essential to such an iconic role.
Elswhere, Stephen Hewitt's Colonel Pickering works suitably well with Higgins in a convincing performance which also includes great comedy timing, particularly during the two phone calls. Ed Curry, as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (who obviously had a number of friends/ fans in the audience on the night of the review) also gives a lovely performance. Rather than being a ‘wet fish’ as often portrayed, he is very believable as a naive, vulnerable and rather simple character. The audience seemed quite taken with him and enjoyed The Street Where You Live which is well delivered. Lastly a word for Patrick Harrison as Eliza’s father, the unmistakable Alfred Doolittle; beautifully engaging with the audience especially in With A Little Bit Of Luck - and surprisingly light on his feet and not at the expense of his vocal. Both his sidekicks also work well with him with some good harmonies in this trio.
The sellout show's audience on review night were very appreciative of what is a rather lengthy musical. Despite the Bridewell's seating (which gets more uncomfortable the longer you sit) and the slightly-too-effective air conditioning, the audience reacted well to the show's ups and downs - and especially the humour. On a number of occasions a well-deserved and spontanious cheer broke out... and isn't that what theatre should be like!