By Marie Louise
Along with another 50 people, I braved the cold to watch My Fair Lady last night. The musical, put on by Feather Theatre Company, was definitely worth the snowy trek. It’s a musical of a very misogynistic and different time, and translating into 2018 is a big task. This production manages, however, to narrate a lot of the story from Eliza’s view, giving her agency, and is also aware of the character flaws of Higgins. The Director Lauren Spowart and Assistant Director Sam Draisey did well with keeping both true to the period and giving Eliza a voice and agency that is sometimes lacking in other productions of My Fair Lady.
My favourite performance of the night was that of Jemima Oakley as Mrs Pearce, whose almost “The Office”-style expressions and quiet exasperation added so much to the scenes she was in. Colonel Pickering (George Bone) also added amazing facial expressions and well-delivered sarcastic remarks to the play, highlighting and complementing the leads Eliza and Professor Higgins. Olivia Nicole Kittle as Eliza did a brilliant job, although sometimes it felt like there was more depth to her character than presented on stage. Nevertheless, she dealt well with her solo scenes and showed off her vocal skills in “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Without You”, handling the very high and hard vocals of her character well. Nicholas Tansley as Professor Henry Higgins at times seemed somewhat off-character, but generally managed to portray a very harsh and unlikeable character in a surprisingly sympathetic and enjoyable way.
Spowart’s direction and Hector Halford-McLeod’s musical direction complimented each other well and their work brought out the humour in those songs. In particular, the lovesick solos of Lewis Russell, playing Freddy, and Tansley’s rendition of “I’m an Ordinary Man” were received with laughter by the audience. The orchestra, in general, took some time at the start to properly get into the swing of the musical but sounded great once they were warmed up. There were some sound feedback issues at the start and throughout the musical, the actors were sometimes hard to understand. The latter could be sorted by either slightly different sound mixing, or by the actors enunciating and projecting more, both when posh and when Cockney, and likely will improve in the next performances.
Megan O’Callaghan and Caitlin Little’s choreography added a lot to the play. Alfie Doolittle (Angus Sherman), Harry (Jonny Hewitt), and Jamie (Alexander Best) did well in their dances, despite what seemed to be smaller choreography issues, and especially their performance of With a Little Bit of Luck was energetic and warmed up the audience. There also needs to be general congratulations to the ensemble for the dances overall. The dance breaks that took up a considerable amount of time were incredibly enjoyable. Every so often spacing and choreography weren’t as set as they could’ve been, but this was probably a first-night issue, and the 30-person-strong ensemble did well with both the bustling cockney dances and more poised upper-class routines they performed.
I very much appreciate the set design of this show, from the more cluttered set of Higgin’s office to the Victorian street, and even to the simple design of what I believe was a garden, expressed through an aesthetic plant on stage, managed to convey the mood well. The additional differentiation of a black backdrop and a white backdrop for the Lower Class scenes and Upper Class scenes respectively worked well as a visual distinction between the two Londons for most of the play. Some of the transitions, especially those into Higgins’ office, could have gone a lot smoother and faster than they did, and will hopefully improve over the run. Especially the wall of bookshelves in Higgins’ office was well-made and I was rather impressed with it, although it came along with the odd choice of having a black hang about a quarter of the way into the stage, covering the books partly, rather than fully removing it for the scene. The Lighting Designer Ben Fox dealt especially well with the night-time scenes and with the different environments needed in the musical. While some scene changes and lighting changes felt rather slow or out of place, the technical aspects fit in very well with the music and atmosphere of the production.
Last but not least, I would also like to give a big kudos to the brave soul in the orchestra who threw the previously fallen off slipper back on stage in a beautifully high arch, and to Kittle’s and Tansley’s reactions to it. Feather Theatre’s My Fair Lady is a well-done college production, and worth braving the cold for.
Photograph: Naomi Young