Friday, 7 November 2008
My Fair Lady
My bridge partner, Ce, talked me into seeing the revival of My Fair Lady by Opera Australia. Ce had seen it last week and couldn't stop talking about it all the way to and from bridge that night and she has already booked to see it again next week.
The last and only time I previously saw MFL on stage was when it was first staged in Australia around 1960. Those were the days when theatrical producers J C Williamson thought that only imported artists would be acceptable to Australian audiences for its major productions and so they brought Stuart Wagstaff and Bunty Turner from Britain to play Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Wagstaff, who must be about 197 years old now, has become a cultural icon of sorts wheeled out for celebrity funerals and the like. Turner, I think, is living in blissful retirement as a Mrs Bloggs somewhere on the Australian coast.
I have never forgotten attending that performance. It was New Years Eve and at the end of the evening, the cast got the entire audience to stand, link hands and sing Auld Lang Syne. It was enough to have a 10 years old gay boy red with embarrassment and I imagine it set back my emotional development by about a decade.
Contemporary musicals seem not to require singable tunes and memorable melodies. They make do with gee whizzery in stagecraft and lots of noise and action. There are no phantoms or wizards in sight in MFL and on my way to theatre last night I pondered whether it would all seem too static and dated.
Somethings don't change a lot and we again have an imported lead in the form of Richard E Grant playing Higgins, although the remainder of the cast appears to be local. Interestingly, the two best performances last night came from veteran Aussies Nancye Hayes and John Wood.
To my delight, the production was excellent and particularly pleasing to the eye and ear. A capacity audience clearly loved it and the acclaim at performance end was strong. That's not to say that it was perfect. Grant has a somewhat gentle manner that occasionally betrays his Higgins although I thought he gave a grand performance nonetheless. Our Doolittle was slightly more worrying to me as I felt right from the start there was something wrong with her cockney accent. It took about forty minutes to dawn on me that she sounded more Birmingham than London at times. A pity because otherwise she was pretty good.
I wonder whether the New Years Eve performance this year will be attended by a gay youth developing his taste in the theatre?