Page 14, 3rd June 2011

3rd June 2011
Page 14
Page 14, 3rd June 2011 — Bernard Shaw’s nuance lost in red-letter play

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Locations: LONDON


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Bernard Shaw’s nuance lost in red-letter play


Pygmalion GARRICK THEATRE, LONDON In 1914, the year Bernard Shaw’s play premiered, the Daily Express took a flower girl to see it. She was evidently shocked by the language. The Theatre Management Association asked Shaw to delete the offending word. “Not bloody likely!” he replied and resigned from the Association. It is ironic, for a play that is all about being ladylike and speaking properly, that this is the one line of dialogue everybody remembers. It was then the first time the expression had been heard on the stage. On the first night there was a sharp intake of breath, followed by a roar of laughter, followed by a stunned silence, and then more laughter. The audience laughed so much they almost wrecked the play. A hundred years on it still gets a big laugh because it is so beautifully placed during the famous tea party scene where the pedantic correctness of the pronunciation is so hilariously at odds with the vulgarity of the narrative.

In the same way that the success of Oscar Straus’s operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, drove Bernard Shaw’s rms and the Man off the stage in 1914 so did Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s musical, My Fair Lady, drive Pygmalion off the stage in 1958. Professor Higgins, an illmannered 20th-century Pygmalion, takes Eliza Doolit tle, a flower girl, out of the gutter and determines to pass her off as a duchess within six months, never giving a thought, as to what might happen to her after the experiment is over. He is an egotistical bully, who walks over everybody; but he’s no Svengali. Rupert Everett, who cuts a dark, brooding, sinister figure, needs to look at Shaw’s stage directions which describes Higgins as remaining likeable even in his least reasonable moments. Everett is never likeable and there is no chemistry between him and Kara Tointo (an impressive debut as Eliza); not even in their curtain call.

Philip Prowse’s production, disappointingly humdrum and lifeless, adds a new ending: a marriage mime. The groom is in uniform, a gratuitous reminder that England is at war and that the lifespan for a second lieutenant was 10 days.

Lord of the Flies OPEN AIR THEATRE REGENTʼS PARK A party of schoolchildren, the only survivors of an aeroplane crash, are stranded on a desert island. Left to their own devices and without any rules of conduct they quickly descend to savagery. No theatre can compete with Regent’s Park when it comes to staging William Golding’s classic lament for lost youth. It’s great to enter the auditorium and see the smouldering wreckage of the plane and the ground and the trees littered with debris. Artistic director Timothy Sheader, wisely, has cast very young actors and the production works really well physically. The best time to see Nigel Williams’s adaptation would be at night.

Kafkaʼs Monkey


Franz Kafka’s stories, most notably Metamorphosis and The Trial, have often been staged and filmed. Kafka’s A Report to an Academy is something new. The report is made by an ape that was born in Africa, captured by big game hunters and brought back in a cramped cage to Europe where, offered a choice between zoo and vaudeville, he opted for a career on the stage. Over a period of five years, in order to survive in his new environment, he turned himself into a human being. Kathryn Hunter’s simian body language is amazingly convincing and a tour de force.

The Acid Test


Anya Reiss had her first play staged professionally when she was 18. She is still only 19. Three 21-year-old middleclass girls share a flat. Ruth has been ditched by her boyfriend. Dana can’t make up her mind whether to have sex with her boss. Jessica brings home her dad, who has just been kicked out of the family home. It’s time for everybody, including dad, to grow up and face the fact that life is tough. Vanessa Kirby and Phoebe Fox are particularly good with the girly, bitchy banter.

Robert Tanitch

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