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If you’re expecting a traditional play set in the early twentieth century with the characters dressed in old-fashioned attire, straw hats, top hats, and half-moon spectacles; think again.

Pygmalion photoshoot
Pygmalion photoshoot

Presented by Headlong and West Yorkshire Playhouse co-production, Sam Pritchard’s reinvented version of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is set in today’s London.

The characters were dressed in modern clothing including Adidas trainers, a snapback, and a palm-tree patterned dress. There were even Haribos, a Scrabble game, and references to Kanye and Beyoncé.

Eliza Doolittle was trained by the sarcastic Henry Higgins; portrayed by Alex Beckett, and his polite friend, Colonel Pickering; who was played by Raphael Sowole on how to become a Duchess: lady-like and genial with respectable manners. The focus of the performance was on her voice. Higgins placed great effort in transforming her accent and her pronunciations of the alphabet.

Pygmalion, Natalie Gavin (Eliza Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and West Yorkshire Playhouse
Pygmalion,
Natalie Gavin (Eliza
Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and West Yorkshire Playhouse

Setting the comedy in a modernised London society helped focus on the issue of British identity and its class struggles. It highlighted Britain’s social mobility today and questioned our identity on whether our voices define who we are.

In the opening, the characters, apart from Doolittle, were voiced by voiceovers in multiple accents and dialects from all over the UK. Their accents interchanged, so each person had more than one voice, and while this happened, everything they said was subtitled on the blank backdrop.

However, Doolittle, who was portrayed by Natalie Gavin, spoke in her Northern accent, and did not have a voiceover, and is further distanced by the characters. She was different, not because of her grimy appearance or the fact that she asked for money in exchange for a flower, but because of the way she spoke.

Pritchard presents the idea of how people judge each other on voices and interrogates how far speech define us in Britain today.

This comedy was filled with many humorous moments from Freddy’s awkward mannerisms. Gavi Singh Chera’s portrayal of him was fantastic. Freddy, though a minor character, was central in bringing the comedic factor in between the dramatic scenes.

A favourite character was Higgins because he was sarcastic and straightforward towards everyone. They had banter and insults thrown at Doolittle. At times, Higgins appeared immature and rude, though he spoke with intelligence.

Pygmalion - Racheal Ofori (Clara Eynsford-Hill), Alex Beckett (Higgins), Natalie Gavin (Eliza), Flaminia Cinque (Mrs Eynsford-Hill), Liza Sadovy (Mrs Higgins), Gavi Singh Chera (Freddy Eynsford Hill) and Raphael Sowole (Colonel Pickering) Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and West Yorkshire Playhouse present PYGMALION By Bernard Shaw Directed by Sam Pritchard Designed by Alex Lowde © Manuel Harlan
Pygmalion – Racheal Ofori (Clara Eynsford-Hill), Alex Beckett (Higgins), Natalie Gavin (Eliza), Flaminia Cinque (Mrs Eynsford-Hill), Liza Sadovy (Mrs Higgins), Gavi Singh Chera (Freddy Eynsford Hill) and Raphael Sowole (Colonel Pickering)
Headlong, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and West Yorkshire Playhouse present
PYGMALION
By Bernard Shaw
Directed by Sam Pritchard
Designed by Alex Lowde
© Manuel Harlan

Sometimes he was childish but this highly entertained the audience because of his slapstick comedy, for example, he annoyed Pickering by spending a minute slapping his hands together.

Another instance was when his mother scolded him and demanded him to sit on the sofa, but he simply stared back, then purposely collapsed to the floor, and started to stretch, adopting a teenage attitude. Higgins brought humour when he gurgled his tea for a long period of time that distracted the guests but the audience groaned when he spat the tea back in his cup.

Random hilarious moments include the testing of Doolittle’s voice that turned into a DJ session. Recordings of her speeches and the alphabet were repeated, put on replay and bass music was added to it. Suddenly, disco lights turned on with pop-like music in the background that transformed the studio into a nightclub scene. Higgins, Pickering, and Mrs Peace, who was portrayed by Flaminia Cinque and wearing a snapback, danced to the music while Doolittle was stuck in the booth confused by the scene.

What you will take from this performance is the brilliant use of the stage space and lighting. The stage design was simple and effective. A backdrop created a front area that represented a London street with a kerb, gutters, and crumpled leaves scattered about the ground. The audience reacted when a dead pigeon was dropped from above. A glass box, placed in the centre of the stage, was used to represent Mrs Higgin’s living room which was a brilliant idea for a new scene as it was simple.

Short filmed clips were projected onto the backdrop that replaced scenes acted on stage, for example, the scene where Doolittle entered a taxi and peered through the windows to the London streets. This was an interesting experience and seemed very movie-like. Words to help Doolittle pronounce them were projected on the backdrop too, and subtitles helped the audience understand what the voiceovers were saying. The play became more interactive and the story livened with the help of the sound designers, the Ringham Brothers.

The backdrop rose to reveal Higgin’s studio with blank walls and photography equipment. The use of the technology made this performance stand out because it was original and different. Throughout the play, the characters played with the mixing console and the microphones. They used the wooden recording both to distort Doolittle’s voice, to lower and increase the pitch, and to create an echo. Doolittle even videoed her surroundings, like the game of Scrabble, using a video camera that was projected onto the blank walls behind them live.

The only disappointing aspect was how the door kept opening itself throughout the performance and therefore it was distracting. The actors and actresses attempted to close it several times that it became quite amusing.

Other than that, this interpretation of the original play is unique and different because of the way it has been directed with all these cultural references and how it is set in the current times. It is a one-of-a-kind performance.

These digital aspects and media forms provided a new experience of a much-loved story.

Book now to see Pygmalion at Nuffield Southampton Theatres until Saturday 13th May.

If you would like an insight of the play and experience more about theatre, you can take part in a workshop, set tour, lecture, and interview. Book and head to the pre-show stage event on Tuesday 2nd May at 5:00pm to 6:30pm before a Pygmalion performance. It is suitable for families and educational groups.

Curious about the behind the scenes of Pygmalion? Why not try a tour and learn about the production of theatre? It is welcome for all, plus you can access backstage on the set of Pygmalion that was created by designer Alex Lowde. Book to see the set on Saturday 13th May.

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Bhinduka Yokalingham has contributed for On the Scene, Tidal Southampton, On the water, Archant, and Mainline Menswear for a year. She is also the editor of Tidal Southampton. She provided research for a student newspaper, The Stripe, and was a winner of her school’s annual poetry competition celebrating National Poetry Day. She is the co-host of 'The 2 O’clock Disney Show' on Radio Sonar since October 2016 and has now brought the show over on BU Toast Radio (Canada). She also runs her own show 'International Music' on BU Toast Radio, playing music from all over the world.

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