- Dates: 24th – 28th June 2003
- Venue: Gala Theatre
- Director: Fred Wharton
- Musical Director: George Hetherington
- Choreographer: Janet Dixon
The first encounter between Professor Henry Higgins, the brilliant, crotchety, middle-aged bachelor who is England’s leading phoneticist, and Eliza Doolittle, the little cockney gutter sparrow, takes place near the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, late on a cold March night. Eliza is selling violets. Higgins is out on his endless quest for new dialects of London’s speech. A handsome young aristocrat, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, takes no notice of her when she tries to sell him violets. Colonel Pickering, also a linguistic expert, comes to stay with Higgins at his flat. Eliza’s squalid father, Alfred Doolittle, outlines his optimistic if somewhat unorthodox philosophy of life in the rousing With a Little Bit of Luck.
Eliza comes to Higgins’ flat to be instructed in the English language, in order to transform herself into a “lidy.” Pickering challenges Higgins to “metamorphose the guttersnipe into a paragon of verbal correctitude.” Higgins looks upon her not as a person but as raw material for his experiment; he drills Eliza for weeks. As no hint of progress is made Eliza loses her courage, Higgins loses his temper and even Pickering’s patience wears thin. In her anger and futility, Eliza creates a set of mean fantasies involving her professor.
At last she improves, and they all proclaim the victor in The Rain in Spain. In the flush of his first success, Higgins puts Eliza to a preliminary test. He will introduce her to his mother’s snobbish guests at the Ascot Race Meeting the following week. Eliza expresses her own towering exaltation in I Could Have Danced All Night. While not romantic, her sense of triumph is tied up with a new feeling for Higgins. Eliza, strikingly pretty in her new gown and hairdo, appears at the races. Instructed to restrict her conversation to the weather and everyone’s health, she says her little set pieces flawlessly. The illusion is shattered when her enthusiasm for the horse she is backing impels her to indulge in a bout of violently unladylike cheering.
Freddy Eynsford-Hill falls hopelessly in love with the new Eliza, and later pours out On the Street Where You Live at her window. Six weeks later Higgins, in a crucial test, presents Eliza at a full-dress Embassy ball. She is the object of admiration and everyone speculates on her identity. It becomes obvious that Eliza must charm Karpathy, a European phonetics expert. At the height of the ball, Karpathy invites her to dance and comments on the pureness of her English.
Pickering and Higgins, back at the flat, indulge in self congratulation. Neither of them takes into account Eliza’s personal accomplishment in the matter. Eliza has absorbed the sophistication and the courage to see the unfairness of this, and she blows up, demanding recognition. The Professor is not so much affronted as astonished; it is as though a statue had come to life and spoken.
Infuriated and frustrated, Eliza storms out of the house. She encounters Freddy and turns her fury on him. Eliza aimlessly walks the streets of the town, the remainder of the night. She encounters her father, drunk and dressed for a fashionable wedding. He has become wealthy, and Eliza’s mother is marrying him at last. Doolittle gives an account of his celebrations in Get Me to the Church on Time.
Higgins discovers that he is hurt because Eliza left him. He meets her at his mother’s flat where she has gone for advice. They argue violently and she storms out. It is only a moment after her departure that Higgins finally wakes up to the fact that Eliza has become an entirely independent and admirable human being. He realizes that he will have a difficult time getting on without her. This he admits to himself in I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
Back at his flat he sinks into his chair prepared to face a bleak, lonely future. But just then-a moment before the final curtain falls-a figure emerges from the shadowy corner of the room, and Higgins recognizes Eliza. He leans back with a long, contented sigh and speaks softly: “Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?”
Sarah Foster – Northern Echo – July 2003
This heart-warming tale of a flower girl who, under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins, rises through the social ranks to be mistaken for an aristocrat, cannot fail to appeal. It was probably partly due to this that its first night at the Gala was a sell-out. But the interest was also undoubtedly as a result of Durham Amateur Operatic Society’s reputation for quality.
Having already performed three times at the theatre, the society has become one of its biggest draws, and audiences will not be disappointed with the latest offering.
My Fair Lady sees the return of two of the society’s stalwarts – Delia McNally and Anthony Smith, in the leading roles of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins.
Watching McNally perform is a delight — whether as Cockney down-and-out or belle of the ball, she manages utterly to charm the audience, slipping from one character to the other with ease. Her stage presence and versatility make you wonder why she doesn’t make a career of acting. She is ably supported by a strong cast, including Smith as a suitably pigheaded Higgins and Laurence Scott as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering.
Olly Burton injects energy and humour into his role as Eliza’s father, contributing some great comic moments, and the music, costumes and set are of the society’s usual high standard.
Two little dogs provoked much amusement in their cameo roles as Mrs Higgins’s pets, and despite the show’s length, the audience was with it all the way.
Northern NODA News
My Fair Lady is a very demanding show, calling for strong acting from the two main principals, and especially good singing from Eliza. Delia McNally was the obvious choice for this role, singing all her songs with ease, and coping convincingly with the transition from cockney flower girl to lady.
Anthony Smith gave a relaxed interpretation of the self-assured Professor Higgins, and he had a wonderful foil in Laurence Scott, who played the very correct Colonel Pickering.
I particularly enjoyed the playing of Helen Harries in the lovely cameo role of Mrs. Pierce. Valenda Taylor was ideally cast as Mrs. Higgins with her perfect style and diction.
Olly Burton played Alfred Doolittle with robust panache, and Graeme Walton, as Freddy, gave us a lovely “On The Street Where You Live”. There were some lively, boisterous cockney numbers, and an impressive Ascot Gavotte.
Thank you for a wonderful evening.