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by on 5 October 2022

Mayfair Lady


by George Bernard Shaw

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 8th October

Review by David Stephens

One of George Bernard-Shaw’s finest plays, Pygmalion has been a favourite of theatregoers since its Viennese debut over a hundred years ago.  Its prominent messages of social mobility and gender inequality remain as resonant with today’s audiences as they were to those who first saw it. 

Also often told in its musical incarnation, My Fair Lady, this wonderful play tells the story of a working-class flower-girl, Eliza Doolittle (Anastasia Drew) and her aspiration to become one of the beautifully presented, well-spoken ladies that she so admires through the windows of Covent Garden’s dress shops.  A chance meeting with Henry Higgins (Oliver Tims), a world-renowned professor of linguistics, leads to her being accepted as one of his projects and whilst guiding her, sometimes rather too sadistically, on her journey from ‘street’ to ‘chic’, he discovers a thing or two about his own flaws along the way. 

On this occasion, the story is told by Teddington Theatre Club, one of London’s leading amateur groups, delivering a production which is anything but amateur.  The expertly crafted sets take us on a journey from the brilliantly projected Portico of St. Paul’s church, Covent Garden to the beautifully detailed rooms of Higgins’ apartment on Wimpole St and then on to the ‘flown-in’ set of his mother’s perfectly sculpted home in Chelsea.  Great credit must therefore be paid to the set designers and army of set builders who managed to create this world, complete with its high, Georgian ceilings and truly exquisite detail.  It is a set worthy of any professional production.

As the musical version is so well known to audiences and, I’m sure, to the actors in this company, it must have been incredibly tempting to attempt to replicate the characters made so famous by Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison et al.  However, it is pleasing to see that, under the guidance of Director, Roger Smith, each actor had succeeded in creating believable characters in their own right.  In her representation of Eliza Doolittle, Anastasia Drew gives a more subtle and, therefore, less caricatured portrayal of this ‘diamond in the rough’, whilst still entertaining the audience with wonderful character acting and great comedic timing.  This more naturalistic approach, however, did make it slightly more difficult for her to display the stark contrast between the Eliza pre- and post- Higgins.  A little more work on Eliza’s deportment following her transformation, for example, would have helped to highlight the extent of her metamorphoses to society lady whilst still allowing her character to be played in her chosen, more natural style.  This is a very minor criticism for an otherwise excellent performance.

Ably playing alongside Drew in the role of Eliza’s (tor)mentor, Prof. Higgins, Oliver Tims graces the stage of Hampton Hill theatre for the first time.  This debut TTC performance was full of energy from start to finish and was a joy to watch.  Given his character’s undoubted attention to phonetic detail, one would have liked to have heard the Received Pronunciation to have been a tad more polished in places but this minor flaw was likely the result of Tims’ complete immersion into his character and, therefore, entirely excusable.  Higgins’ side-kick, Colonel Pickering was played by Matt Ludbrooke, whose warm, calm and caring portrayal contrasted well against the fiery Higgins, resulting in a partnership that was entirely believable and enjoyable to watch. 

In her role as Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs Pearce, Shana de Carsignac Monwanga also delights the audience with her portrayal.  Higgins’ uncaring manner towards Eliza results in cautionary admonishment from this employee, as she warns him of the likely consequences of his actions.  An important maternal figure in the life of the childish Higgins, Mrs Pearce is expertly played by Shana in a delightfully stern but warm manner and with added comedy value.

Also hugely enjoyable were Sue Bell’s portrayal of Mrs Higgins, the professor’s mother and Dominic Lloyd’s portrayal of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father.  Both are important to the story and were very well portrayed.  Stylish ensemble appearances were also made by Anna Strain and Fran Billington, as the Eynsford-Hill ladies, bringing some wonderful comedy acting to some key scenes; Sian Walters who ably played the roles of bystander and maid; and James Matthews playing the part of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s ever-hopeful suitor.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre and a top-rate production from TTC. 

David Stephens, October 2022

Photography by Kim Harding

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