I expected panel show host and comedian Alistair McGowan to make a big impression on me as his stock-in-trade is phonetics and adopting the accents of others.
But his comic turn as Professor Henry Higgins in the touring production of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion left me distinctly unimpressed.
Pygmalion has been playing at Milton Keynes Theatre this week and I finally caught up with it last night.
I’ve huge admiration for McGowan, and enjoy his impersonations, but was disappointed at his latest role as an actor.
It was a sledgehammer of a performance that consisted of the star mugging to the audience and delivering his lines with the puppy-like enthusiasm of his Richard Madeley characterisation.
But reviewing is a wholly subjective profession and I’m the first to admit that the audience seemed to enjoy director David Grindley’s vision of the misogynist Higgins.
Here was a puerile mummy’s boy with a mental age of ten and the behaviour of a spoilt brat. A whiny misanthrope, devoid of manners and social conventions himself yet arrogantly confident he could instil them in a lowly flower girl.
Thank god for Jamie Foreman who swept onto the stage with two tremendous scenes as the Dostoyevsky of dustmen, Alfred Doolittle.
Foreman came on in full G’awd blimey Cockney to deliver a star turn that raised the whole production from the lacklustre to something approaching entertainment.
“Undeserving poverty is my line,” he declared before selling his squawking, ragamuffin daughter, Eliza, to Higgins for a fiver.
Pygmalion, and its musical version, My Fair Lady, is a story of social engineering that lampoons the British class system so hated by its author.
Higgins bets a fellow phonetician that he can’t turn a commoner into a lady simply by teaching her the right way to speak.
Unfortunately the experiment works only too well and Eliza is left being neither fish nor fowl, too “educated” to return to her impoverished roots and not socially acceptable to join the middle or upper classes.
But her elocution lessons do serve one purpose, and that’s to give her independence and opportunity.
Rula Lenska does a good job of appearing imperious as Higgins’ indomitable mother (very Lady Bracknell) while newcomer Rachel Barry makes a passable Eliza.
An amusing production if not a worthy one.
Pygmalion finishes at MKT tomorrow and continues touring.