Review: Theatre Lac-Brome presents charming, classical adaptation of “Pygmalion”

Knowlton theatre company gives modern resonance to a timeless piece subverting gender roles

Jenna Wheeler-Hughes and Howard Rosenstein star as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion” (Image courtesy of Theatre Lac-Brome)

Legendary figure of Greek mythology, Pygmalion once made a statue of his ideal woman – Galatea. Falling in love with the beauty and splendour of his carved creation made from unpromising raw material,  

Pygmalion is thus the well-known early 1900s story of professor Henry Higgins (Howard Rosenstein), who, on a boastful bet with fellow phonetician Colonel Pickering (Paul Stewart), sets out transform the guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle (Jenna Wheeler-Hughes) into a refined young lady who can pass as a duchess. A working-class Cockney girl selling flowers for pennies on a street corner, Eliza accepts Higgins’ speech lessons to become more proper and, ultimately, improve her job prospects. As she is taken in to live with him, however, she is put through a daunting regimen of elocution and etiquette – cruelly treated by the haughty Higgins but tempted to stay there with fine clothing, chocolate delicacies, and taxi cab rides. As she learns to speak for herself (in rounded tones) through his brutal tutelage to become his verbal match, it turn out Higgins too has something of his own to acquire of the way of sensitivity and manners.



Traditionally cast and resourcefully produced, Theatre Lac-Brome confidently slices to the core of a classic. Rona Waddington, who here adapts and directs, has abridged the 5-act (arguably anti-) romance into a light and delightful 90-minute intermissionless affair. Simplistic and stripped of any superfluous embellishments in staging, the production leaves be Bernard Shaw’s clever characters and text as the sparkling centrepieces. While those all too intimate with Pygmalion successor “My Fair Lady” may miss certain scenes in the play (less time is here devoted to Eliza’s training, for one), excerpts of Lerner & Loewe’s memorable score do find their way in. Pianist (and Artistic & Director General of Theatre Lac-Brome) Nicholas Pynes’s seamlessly integrated instrumental underscoring is a joy – not to mention that his occasional delivery of a character line from the sides is a winsome directorial touch.

The actors, then, are left primarily to their chops, with stage veteran Howard Rosenstein leading the stellar troupe as the deliciously supercilious linguist Professor Higgins. Rendering an equally magnetic performance is Jenna Wheeler-Hughes as a multidimensional Eliza – altogether funny, fierce, and poignant in her transformation from a dirt-faced, yowling street urchin to a decorous woman of poise and polish. In his turn as Eliza’s father Alfred, Matt Holland is humorous making a case for the “undeserving poor” and against “middle class morality”.

Proper mention also goes to Paul Stewart as a gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Ezra Fama de Smit as a charming Freddy, and a versatile Mary Harvy who, with the help of Alex Amini’s elegant costume designs, skillfully does double duty as Mrs. Higgins/Mrs. Pearce.

Shaw’s work proves itself to be of restless spirit in its backing of women’s right, and in making his characters’ fates explicit we find a most fitting, empowering finale for our times. With themes of gender roles, class, education, and identity at the fore, Pygmalion graciously expands the progressive belief in a society fairer and kinder to those in vulnerable positions within oppressing social hierarchies. Weighty in relevance but light in form, this adaption is the consummate summer theatre outing. Don’t miss Theatre Lac-Brome’s other productions this season; check out the full programming at theatrelacbrome.ca.



Theatre Lac-Brome presents George Bernard Shaw’s

PYGMALION

July 6th – 21st, 2018
Tickets ($35 General Admission):
https://theatrelacbrome.ca/event/pygmalion-preview-presentation/

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