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‘My Fair Lady’ review

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • London Coliseum, Covent Garden
  • 3 out of 5 stars
My Fair Lady, London Coliseum, 2022
Photo by Marc Brenner
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

This fractionally tweaked Broadway production of the classic musical is pleasant but won’t win over any doubters

‘My Fair Lady’ is a complicated kind of musical fairytale. It gives audiences wonderfully quaint Victoriana and an enchanting rags-to-riches transformation, but it also sours its own magic by unveiling the grim social injustices beneath the story. Fresh from Broadway, Bartlett Sher’s production is slick and accomplished, but loses the narrative's subtlety in a crowd-pleasing burst of top-hatted kitsch.

Amara Okereke plays cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle with vocal aplomb: her voice soars through much-loved songs like 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly', making them a heart-rending highlight of the show. But she also makes Eliza a bit of a caricature. When she’s called insults like a ‘squashed cabbage leaf’ by patronising upper-class phonetics expert Henry Higgins she's not crushed – she physically shoves him out the room, in moments of physical comedy that mask her vulnerability in the moment.  And as Higgins, Harry Hadden-Paton lacks the haughty charisma and underlying menace needed to give their relationship real snap.

Sher's direction and Michael Yeargan's elaborate but flat-feeling set design follow the much-loved 1963 film closely, and in doing so they create a staid frame around this story, one that only broad performances can puncture enough to get a laugh out of the audience. Sher’s treatment of 'I'm Getting Married in the Morning' is a case in point: this song is a comic classic, and it shouldn't need knicker-flashing chorus girls and a dragged-up dummy bride to have the audience in stitches.

If you strip away its romantic trappings, ‘My Fair Lady’ is the story of two upper-class men who take on a friendless working-class woman as a bet, bully her into speaking and acting ‘properly’ through endless lessons, dress her up like a doll, and then get surprised when she shows evidence of feelings. Sher tries to address the uncomfortable undertones of ‘My Fair Lady’ with a tweaked ending designed to give Eliza more agency. It doesn't really work, when there's been so little directorial innovation in what's gone before. It's a delight to hear Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s score fill the Coliseum, and this production will just about satisfy its fans, without offering enough to win over sceptics. 

Written by
Alice Saville

Details

Address:
London Coliseum
St Martin's Lane
London
WC2N 4ES
Transport:
Tube: Charing Cross
Price:
£20-£185. Runs 3hr

Dates and times

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