Shaw's best known play makes for an interesting contrast with Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, shown at the matinee before this. Both works were written within a few years of each other by Irish socialists but Shaw's drawing room comedy seems a million miles away from Tressell's milieu.
Director/designer Philip Prowse's ornate staging has the look and feel of a Victorian toy theatre; it’s opulent but there’s a coldness at the heart.
Rupert Everett doesn’t look comfortable as Higgins. He's older than Shaw’s description, but he acts younger – in fact, he acts too young, looking like he’s been expecting the call to play Hamlet rather than a phonetics professor.
His Higgins is rich in petulance and sulkiness. Shaw says that his irascibility should be tempered with good humour – there’s little sign of that in Everett. The final scene with him dressed in black, brooding silently as Eliza marries Freddie, looks for all the world like Hamlet, except that Eliza thrusts a bunch of violets in his hand, rather than Yorick's skull.
Honeysuckle Weeks does her best with Eliza, but struggles with the cockney vowels in the first scenes - many of her opening lines are inaudible. She comes more into her own in Mrs Higgins' soiree, traversing the stage with her dainty but measured tread, even though her voice is again too small. If she’s a struggle to be heard five rows from the front, who knows how she’ll sound up in the gods.
There’s some good work from the rest of the cast, however. Stephanie Cole as Higgins' exasperated mother steals both of her scenes and gets most of the big laughs. She's almost matched by Phil Davis' Doolittle, revelling in the word play of the Cockney moralist, and there’s a very solid Colonel Pickering from Peter Eyre.
There's one aspect of the production that's very strange – there are two intervals in a not very long play (under 100 minutes of running time), and that's after Prowse has taken out the ballroom scene and the Nepomuk character. Perhaps Chichester bar takings are down and they need to drum up extra business but at a time when two-hour shows are put on without a break, this smacks of self-indulgence.