Quietly Efficient Version of Shaw's Play with Plenty of Incidental Pleasures
One of the pitfalls of reviewing a play such as PYGMALION is the tendency to compare different versions with such landmark works as MY FAIR LADY (1964) or Anthony Asquith's PYGMALION (1938). It is far more fruitful to approach Cedric Messina's 1973 production on its own terms as a genuine attempt to rethink a well-known classic. There are certain alterations, notably the introduction of a bathroom scene when Liza Doolittle (Lynn Redgrave) is bathed by Mrs. Pearce (Angela Baddeley), and an ending which leaves us deliberately uncertain as to whether Liza will return to Professor Higgins' (James Villiers') house or not. What renders this BBC Play of the Month version so interesting is the quality of the individual performances: Villiers' Higgins is basically an overgrown schoolboy, accustomed to having his own way yet easily suppressed both by Mrs. Pearce and his mother (Lally Bowers). He tries his best to bully Liza, but is eventually forced to succumb to her will. Redgrave's Liza is a physically imposing presence, with sufficient esprit de corps to make us realize that she will not remain subservient for very long. At the time the program was made, Baddeley was also involved in UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS; her Mrs. Pearce has a lot of Mrs. Bridges in it. A practical, no-nonsense personality, she knows how to deal with Higgins, while realizing that Liza will only stay so long as she deems it necessary to do so. Ronald Fraser turns in a quietly understated characterization of Colonel Pickering - although determined to work with Higgins, he realizes the Professor's shortcomings. Messina uses frequent reaction-shots of Pickering's face to point up Higgins' behavioral absurdities. Emrys James' Alfred Doolittle is a star turn in itself - this ruddy-faced, effervescent personality is every inch the orator, the kind of person for whom middle class morality is both the bane of his life and the passport to success. Messina's straightforward, no-nonsense production relies a lot on close-ups for its effect; it unfolds at a cracking pace, while vividly emphasizing Shaw's satiric purposes. Definitely worth watching.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?