Review: My Fair Lady
Venue 1, St Andrews, 1 May 2011
Rating: 3.5 / 5
For their second semester musical, the Just So Society went back to the classics: a rendition of My Fair Lady, loyal to the musical traditions of the 1950s, directed by Sam Fowles and Mark Gregory. With a live band on stage, some lovely early-twentieth century costumes, and extended dance and orchestral scenes (think small-scale Guys and Dolls and West Side Story), this is a trip into the familiar for most, and so relied on the talent of the cast for its spark; which, by and large, succeeded.
In a role initially made famous by Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Slater did a commendable job as Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, holding her own and endearing herself to the audience with her howls of indignation, vibrant expressions and defensively repeated ‘I’m a good girl, I am’. With a musical so heavily focused on dialect and language in general (it is, after all, based on a play by George Bernard Shaw), the most subtle differences in pronunciation were going to be vital, and Slater and her co-star Joseph Potts were very good at elucidating these differences. Potts must also be commended for his portrayal of the well-spoken, misogynistic and dryly witty Professor Higgins, with the perfect tone for extracting the script’s more cynical comedy.
Generally speaking, the supporting cast did very well keeping in character; but although they could act and sing, it was the dancing that appeared to be their downfall: while Eliza may have wanted to dance all night, it was evident that the rest did not. What could have been a spectacular Embassy Ball was spoiled by terrible timing, skipping movements, and expressions largely of pained concentration. This is not to undermine the effort of the cast; ballroom is extremely difficult to learn, and I applaud the cast for trying. On the other hand, since it is commonly known that ballroom is a challenge, perhaps this should have been taken into consideration early on and worked upon more. The other main dance scene, set in the London streets, was far better, although this was mainly due to the three fabulous tap dancers who actually knew what they were doing. Despite some poor execution, the choreography from Alex Bergabo and Fiona Lindley, with ballroom help from Christian Büttner, was excellent.
There were some problematic moments: issues with sound at the beginning of Act Two left some of the dialogue completely inaudible, and then there were deliberately silent scenes like the overture, purely driven by the music and actors’ mimed interaction, which lacked the punch that such long scenes of non-action require; but some wonderfully unexpected moments, like the goose-stepping policeman and Act Two’s dance-off, gave the show that extra bit of memorability. Combined with the talent of the band, the singing and the general atmosphere, it made this a production worth watching; if not all night, then definitely for one evening.
Photos by Kelly Diepenbrock