Paul T. Davies reviews My Fair Lady at the Mercury Theatre, presented by Colchester Operatic Society.

Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical presents many a quandary for a modern-day audience. Arrogant, priggish and misogynistic Professor Higgins plucks a cockney flower girl off the streets of London, trains her to speak the “Kings English”, and successfully passes her off in English aristocratic society as genuine.

After essentially grooming her, he then dumps her when the experiment is over, seemingly unaware and uncaring that he has placed her beyond two worlds. Where does she belong now? To view and review the musical, you have to put it in context. The attitudes towards women were the norm in the 1950s, and the musical looks back on an earlier time, the source being George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion. It is queasy to hear the advice that if she steps out of line, the best thing to do is beat her, and there are many arguments for not staging the musical anymore. But this production is created by a huge amount of hard work and love, and I would never criticize that.

As Eliza, Hannah Ambrose is realistic and believable. She was a little rushed at first; maybe because of nerves and the Cockney accent, she was inaudible at points. But she settled down and captured Eliza’s transformation perfectly, and her singing is divine.

Higgins is a mainly one-dimensional character; it’s only in the last ten minutes that there are any hints that he might have fallen for Eliza, and Wayne Setford captures his boorishness well, but perhaps more hints of a tender attitude could have been brought in sooner.

Graham Bowden is a delightful Colonel Pickering, and Stuart Williams an excellent Alfred P Doolittle, with he and the company providing a show stopping Get Me To The Church on Time.

Tom Pleasant, with his excellent singing, does his best with the underwritten role of Freddy, (I would have liked to have seen him play Higgins), and, thankfully, the female point of view is well represented by Barbara Ryan as Mrs Pearce and Jackie Grant as Mrs Higgins, bringing sense and class to the proceedings.

The chorus are excellent and give 100% to every song. A special mention must go to the superb crew, who never stop supporting the entire production.

At three hours and twenty minutes, it’s a long show, but all credit to director Claire Carr, who ensures that the energy does not drop one iota. The choreography is lively, although the company seems more confident with hands on their lapels (men) and skirts (women) as Cockneys than they do at a more restrictive Waltz.

But the energy of the show cannot be denied, and the capacity audience cheered the production. Whatever you think of the content, they deserved those cheers.

Until Sunday 4th February. Tickets are available.

Photo credit: Wild Bears Photography