George Bernard Shaw's timeless classic Pygmalion has formed the basis of a popular musical and one of the most successful romantic comedies all time (starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere). Also, think of the term 'makeover' and it all harks back to this wonderfully witty play.
The problem is that none of these later versions do the play any justice. You only realise this when you're sitting in the Royal Exchange crying with laughter at their current revival, which is exquisitely delivered on every level, and is as stunning as Chris Honer's production which was seen at the Library Theatre in 2002.
Unlike the more sugary versions, the original remains a biting look at social class. Poor Cockney fllower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Cush Jumbo) is transformed into a lady by Professor Henry Higgins (Simon Robson) with thrilling results. But what the Academic does not realise is that Eliza's poverty stricken life does not mean there is no heartbeat or feeling within the girl. The puppet master soon grows to realise that these strings have to be broken in order to save the poor mite.
Theatre and filmgoers, young and old, know the plot inside out. But due to Greg Hersov's fast paced direction, and a faultless cast who give winning performances, audiences are in for a treat, as in their capable hands it feels like a brand new play. There is not one wasted role here, as Shaw writes fully rounded characters, who drive the narrative forward, meaning even the most minor of supporting roles is an actor's dream.
Julia Hills is delightful as family friend Mrs Eynsford Hill, Howard Hutt's Freddy is a bounding buffoon and Sue Wallace's housekeeper Mrs Pearce is a stern, orderly character concealing a heart of gold. Mrs Higgins is played with relish by Gaye Brown and her interplay with her stage son is brimming with comedy gold and Colonel Pickering is given heart and soul by the brilliant Terence Walton.
Ian Bartholomew is a real hoot as Eliza's money grabbing father; a bin man who lives for drink and the cash he uses to pay for it. Simon Robson's Higgins is a rude and arrogant Svengali but this talented performer portrays his childlike interior and his ability to offend without realising, with ease, making him likeably grumpy. He is ably matched by Cush Jumbo who, is a complete revelation as downtrodden Eliza, as she imbues her with devotion, humour and poignancy and as a result, you root for her, from the minute this beautiful young actress steps onto the stage.
Ashley Martin-Davis' simple, yet highly effective set, which doubles as a bustling Covent Garden shelter from the rain, to Higgins' grandly designed home - is worth the admission price alone.
Greg Hersov's Pygmalion is a decadent, diamond-encrusted treat featuring a glittering, star-turn from a leading lady to look out for. Luvverly!