OPENING NIGHT REVIEW: My Fair Lady, Harrogate Theatre

June 20, 2019

Fun fact: My Fair Lady was the first musical theatre production I was ever a part of. At the ripe age of 12-years-old, I tied my apron strings and sang about ‘poor Professor Higgins’ as a couple of sixth formers ran around the stage yelling vowel sounds at each other.

If that sentence confuses you, then let me give you a general overview of what ‘My Fair Lady’ is about.

The 1956 musical, written by George Bernard Shaw, and originally starring good old Julie Andrews, is about a cockney flower girl called Eliza Doolittle. By chance, Eliza bumps into a phonetics teacher and confirmed life-long bachelor, Professor Higgins, and begs him to give her lessons in how to speak ‘proper’.

What ensues is a classic British comedy as Professor Higgins and his friend, Colonel Pickering, attempt to turn Eliza into an aristocrat.

Some people call it ‘the perfect musical’, and after watching last night’s production at the Harrogate Theatre, I would have to say it is definitely up there as one of the greats.

I haven’t seen any productions by Harrogate Operatic Society before, but after last night’s show I will be sure to seek out their productions in future. ‘My Fair Lady’ was a triumph.

I forgot just how many classic songs are in the show, and as you sit there watching it, you are sent on a trip down nostalgia lane. Of course everybody remembers ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly’, but I personally think this song is weak in comparison to the brilliant ‘Get me to the church on time’, ‘On the street where you live’, ‘The rain in Spain’, and the incomparable ‘I could have danced all night’.

‘My Fair Lady’ is refreshing for one big reason. It is a play with songs, rather than a load of songs with a few lines popped in between to create a story. Sometimes you could go 15 minutes without a song, whilst instead, you watched the main cast banter with each other in an entertaining fashion, not even missing the music.

The plot is great, the characters are well developed (due to the wealth of acting scenes, rather than singing) and it is great seeing a show with a relationship between a man and a woman that isn’t romantic.

Now, let’s begin with the cast of ‘My Fair Lady’…

If you don’t have a good Eliza Doolittle, then you don’t have a good show. Luckily, Harrogate Operatic Society managed to find the most perfect Eliza in the Harrogate area. Nina Logue was simply perfect casting.

Aside from the fact that her contrasting cockney and RP accents were brilliant, she had a wonderful stage presence. She was equally cheeky and brash, whilst also able to be sweet and innocent when needed.

The role of Eliza is vocally challenging, after all, Julie Andrews sets the bar high, but Nina did the gorgeous score justice. Sometimes when casting such a complex role you have to give or take on the singing or the acting, and thankfully, Nina Logue is great with both. HOPS certainly struck gold finding their Eliza!

On all accounts you shouldn’t particularly like Professor Higgins. He is rude, conceited and pretty abusive to Eliza. He constantly threatens to throw her out on the street, calls her a ‘guttersnipe’ and emotionally tortures her just so he can win his bet with Colonel Pickering. However, Mark Sowden’s portrayal of the aloof bachelor had me in stitches and I actually rather liked his character.

The banter back and forth between himself, Eliza and Colonel Pickering had me laughing the whole way through. I even felt sorry for him at the end when we get to see his softer side. Professor Higgins can very easily be a boring role for a man, however Sowden brought charm and comedy to the role and carried the show on his very capable shoulders.

Gavin Mills’ Colonel Pickering was delightfully bumbling. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching Jim Broadbent on the stage. He certainly wouldn’t have been out of place in a Monty Python film.

His comedic innocence was the perfect contrast to Professor Higgins’ hilarious hostility and the pair made the most perfect of duos.

Every show needs its comedy character and Chris Cowling’s Alfred P. Doolittle delivers the goods. Eliza’s money-grabbing, drunk father turns up only a few times in the show to remind us exactly where Eliza came from before she entered Professor Higgins’ aristocratic world, and he gets two of the most well-known songs in the show.

‘With a little bit of luck’ and ‘Get me to the church on time’ were obvious crowd pleasers and the combination of ensemble choreography and Cowling’s rugged cheekiness made a recipe for success.

My only qualm would be that his microphone needs turning up because we kept missing a lot of his lines and struggled to hear him once the big band started playing. Hopefully, this will be rectified for the rest of the run.

Special mention to Melanie James who was a perfect Mrs Pearce keeping the men in order and bringing a calming, motherly presence to the stage whenever she was on.

Whoever was in charge of costumes deserves a round of applause; they were simply exquisite. The stage popped with the fantastic costumes from both the cockney garb to the regal black and white Ascot dresses and suits.

Not to mention, the choreography was perfectly executed and suitable for each musical number. There wasn’t big choreography for the sake of it, and all the moves remained in character with the setting. Lovely use of formations and constantly moving groups kept the stage alive and your eyes fixing on one person to another at given moments.

A special mention to the director, Michael Kirkby, who managed to create a believable and entertaining relationship between the main cast. The scenes were never stagnant, they kept moving and were never boring. (And it can be very easy for the long scenes in My Fair Lady to get boring after a while, so that is an impressive feat to keep the audience engaged the whole way through.)

If you are looking for a theatre trip, I would get off your butt and head to the Harrogate Theatre to see this production pronto. It only has a limited run of this week, due to being an amateur dramatic society production, so don’t wait to get your ticket.

Just be prepared that it is a long show and gets very warm in the theatre – take in a bottle of water with you! It’s definitely not a show I would recommend taking your children to see.

By the way, to the lady sitting behind me who kept singing the whole way through… I absolutely love that you loved the show so much. But please, next time you go to the theatre, refrain from singing along to every song. People pay to see the cast on stage do the singing, not you, my dear.

‘My Fair Lady’ runs at the Harrogate Theatre for the rest of this week. So hurry to the box office double quick, and maybe, ‘with a little bit of luck‘ you can snag a ticket before it finishes!

Get your tickets through the website here.

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