Review: 'Pygmalion still packs a punch' at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

PUBLISHED: 13:00 18 June 2018

Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

John Davies

Pygmalion has opened at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Emily Perry reviews the Barn's production of the famous George Bernard Shaw play.

Colin Macleod as Colonel Pickering, Sarah Doyle-Smith as Mrs Pearce, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John DaviesColin Macleod as Colonel Pickering, Sarah Doyle-Smith as Mrs Pearce, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

A play about accents and social class, entwined with human relationships and the ways we communicate, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was first performed in 1913.

It’s enjoyed many reincarnations since, perhaps the most memorable being when Lerner and Loewe added music to make My Fair Lady, frequently referred to as the perfect musical.

However, this Barn production relies purely on Shaw’s original, witty dialogue.

He loved language and although many of his plays were excessively wordy and argumentative, this one isn’t.

Sheila Grimmant, Andrew Read and Lucy Winston as bystanders, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John DaviesSheila Grimmant, Andrew Read and Lucy Winston as bystanders, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

It’s the best loved of them all.

The basis of the plot is a wager between phonetics expert Professor Higgins (Russell Vincent) and Colonel Pickering (Colin Macleod) that turns into a social experiment.

Professor Higgins is to transform Eliza Doolittle from a common flower girl into a duchess, by improving her diction.

The banter and relationship between the two men is believable and the text flows well between them.

Colin Macleod as Colonel Pickering, Peter Dawson as Alfred Doolittle, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John DaviesColin Macleod as Colonel Pickering, Peter Dawson as Alfred Doolittle, Katherine Steed as Eliza Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

George Bernard Shaw may have had no desire to see his works set to song, but I found myself thinking of them, especially when Higgins melancholically mentions growing accustomed to her face.

This Eliza is played, delightfully, by Katherine Steed, a talented actor who was utterly believable in the role.

Alfred Doolittle, played by Peter Dawson, Mrs Higgins (Jan Westgarth) and the Eynsford-Hills (Maureen Davies, Naomi Meaden and James Russell) successfully deliver the much-needed humour.

For me, though, the most poignant performance comes from Sarah Doyle-Smith, who gives a terrific performance as Mrs Pearce, housekeeper to Professor Higgins and, ultimately, Eliza’s advocate.

Peter Dawson as Alfred Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John DaviesPeter Dawson as Alfred Doolittle and Russell Vincent as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: John Davies

While Henry Higgins succeeds in teaching Eliza how to speak, he learns nothing from her, and despite her best efforts remains the classic overgrown English public schoolboy.

But does her transformation bring Eliza happiness? Is the grass greener in the middle class world?

These are questions that are relevant today and make this play still interesting to watch so many years after it was written.

Production-wise, the set was simple and in period, as were the lovely costumes.

The cast and backstage crew of Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre. Picture: John DaviesThe cast and backstage crew of Pygmalion at the Barn Theatre. Picture: John Davies

Scene changes were quite long, and didn’t flow as well as they could have, but thankfully there weren’t too many for them to become a distraction.

Although the cast had great energy and stage presence, I did feel that this play was lacking a bit in direction.

It didn’t flow as well as previous productions I have seen at the Barn.

That said, Pygmalion still packs a punch and, even without the songs, it provides a very entertaining night out.

Pygmalion plays at the Barn Theatre until Saturday, June 23, with evening performances at 8pm and a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.

Tickets cost £13. Call the box office on 01707 324300 or book online at www.barntheatre.co.uk

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