To any avid theatre-goer, the plot of My Fair Lady ought to be familiar by now. Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, after he jokes that he could make a grubby flower girl sound like a Duchess, within a few months. The grubby flower girl takes him up on the offer and through monotonous pronunciation drills and a little bit of bullying – Higgins succeeds.
I had the pleasure of watching the Lancaster Red Rose Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society ‘loverly’ production of this classic musical on it’s the first night. Despite a few teething errors, regarding scene changes and quick tumble on stage from Meril Bull, who brought a calming, albeit clumsy, quality to the role of Henry’s mother, the production was overall flawless.
Susie Romaniuk leads the production as the Fair Lady herself. Romaniuk excelled at playing the ‘horribly dirty’ Eliza that we meet in the plays opening scenes; her body language seemed to emulate an alley cat, and her cockney accent sounded almost natural. Her transformation into high society didn’t feel forced either. When she carefully glided down the stairs of Higgins’ study at the end of the first act, in a soft, shimmering ball gown, I genuinely smiled and felt proud of the lady she had become. While her ‘posh voice’ felt a little forced at times, it merely added to the character. Romaniuk truly understood the character; every decision that she made on stage had been carefully thought out and rehearsed.
The same must be said for Andy Whittle as Henry Higgins. Whittle played the role as mean as they come; he humiliated Eliza to help her achieve their goals. But after Eliza’s transformation, we see him begin to soften and show genuine signs of affection. The theatre group stuck to the tradition of having Eliza played by an actress considerably younger than Higgins. While their relationship at times looked visually quite strange (as there appeared to be an almost thirty year age difference between the two leads), the nature of the relationship devised within the original story remains ambiguous throughout the entire play. In my opinion, Eliza succumbing to Higgins’ mastery and passing him his slippers at the end of the musical, suggests that their relationship is romantic. Despite this, it’s the excellent acting and the beautiful singing, not political issues that will be dancing in your head all night.
Regarding the musical numbers, showstoppers came in the form of Romanjuk’s ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ which showed the audience a delightfully different side to Eliza. Until this point, she almost seemed to despise Higgins, whereas now we see the first glimpses on affection. Another triumphant musical moment came from Matthew Boardman, portraying the role of Alfred Doolittle – Eliza’s drunken and somewhat neglectful father. ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’ was the high point of Vanessa Whittle’s choreography; the entire cast oozed with energy, from the seasoned veterans to the young chorus.
The production captured Edwardian England well through the sets and costumes. From the dirty down and outs to the remarkable array of hats at Ascot, the visuals depicted the world of the musical. The elite world of the upper class was perhaps the worst, as the costumes and Embassy Ball setting could only be described as tacky. I may not have personally associated wealth with shiny satin and sequins. However, from an amateur production, it was a reasonable attempt at depicting that world. For me, an amateur performance is an instant success when you can take a still moment in the performance and appreciate the aesthetic of the production to a professional standard.