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Review Round-up: Tointon Transforms at Garrick

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Philip Prowse’s revival of George Bernard Shaw's 1901 classic Pygmalion opened at the Garrick Theatre last night (25 May, previews from 12 May) where it transferred from the Chichester Festival Theatre.

The productions sees Rupert Everett reprise his role as egocentric Henry Higggins, alongside Strictly Come Dancing winner and former East Ender Kara Tointon as Eliza Doolittle.

The production plays a limited season until 3 September 2011 with a cast that inlcudes Diana Rigg, Peter Eyre, Peter Sandys Clarke, Marty Cruickshank and Roberta Taylor. In addition, Michael Feast takes on the role Alfred Doolittle at the last minute after Simon Ward withdrew from the play due to illness.

Michael Coveney

Philip Prowse’s staging and design are as striking as ever, and Rupert Everett reprises a Higgins of dark and sinister intent ... Kara Tointon... transcends her own stereotype. She’s remarkably assured on the stage, blessed with malleable good looks and tremendous lung power ... Two insertions, snipped from Shaw’s own expanded cinematic text, poeticise the part Peter Sandys-Clarke’s puppyish Freddy Eynsford-Hill plays in Eliza’s story ... Peter Eyre is an affable, amusedly tolerant Colonel Pickering, and Marty Cruickshank a pleasingly cut-glass, scratchy Mrs Eynsford-Hill. New to the cast are Diana Rigg as an imperial, husky-voiced Mrs Higgins, and Roberta Taylor as a watchful, severe Mrs Pearce with a hint of Mrs Danvers. Michael Feast... plays in a bit of a panic at the moment, but it’s an interesting suggestion that he proves his gift of the gab to Higgins by dousing him in a Niagara of hectic conversation. Peter Hall bathed his Covent Garden scene in Elgar; Prowse plumps for Wagner. His scarlet-flavoured production looks lovely, too, in his beautiful, sleekly Edwardian costumes and the expressive lighting of Gerry Jenkinson.”

Michael Billington

“In her West End debut, Tointon gives an extremely assured performance ... She could be even funnier in the famous tea-party scene with Higgins's mother... but she proves to be infinitely more than an over-promoted soap star, and, with her stunning looks and physical poise, has a real future before her. I remain, however, unpersuaded by Rupert Everett's Higgins ... He misses the intellectual joie de vivre that should drive the character ...Diana Rigg... now invests the professor's mother with a radiant good sense. Peter Eyre's Colonel Pickering has a courtesy that offsets Higgins's intemperate rudeness ... Michael Feast catches Alfred Doolittle's transition from happily drunken dustman to respectable middle-class morality ... It is, in fact, a beautifully structured play of infinite subtlety ... But Prowse's production seems more concerned with effects than ideas ... And, although filled with operatic echoes... it fails to relish Shaw's own verbal music ... Even if I've seen better revivals, there is an exhilaration about what Eric Bentley described as 'two completely articulate characters engaged in a battle of words on which both their fates depend'. When one is Kara Tointon, one has no cause to complain.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Mr Everett does well. Opposite him, playing Eliza Doolittle, is Kara Tointon ... This Eliza's Cockney accent is constipated ... but Miss T shows comic flair in the celebrated scene when Eliza tries to play posh at a tea party ... Diana Rigg does a good little turn as Higgins's mother. Peter Eyre is all orotund and kindly as Colonel Pickering. Michael Feast has a bit of a nightmare as Eliza's dad ... But Philip Prowse’s production is perfectly watchable. And yet the whole thing left me faintly underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because these days it is de rigueur for BBC newscasters to speak like Salford typists. Maybe it's because the class debate has so comprehensively swung in the other direction. Maybe it’s because... we lost many of the ideals of courtly behaviour which Shaw was trying to celebrate. The old fool did not realise that accent was to some extent a spoken manifestation of, an aspiration towards, decency. Now that has been dumped, why should anyone bother to be a gentleman?”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Kara Tointon won last year's Strictly Come Dancing ... She now brings some of the same hardworking assurance to her West End debut ... She's eminently likeable. Even if her rapport with co-star Rupert Everett doesn't seem close and her command of accents isn't totally secure, she's funny and engaging ... Everett never looks comfortable... A perfectionist and a dictator, he... is technically adroit but seems too young, too handsome and perhaps not quite grand enough for the part ... The support is efficient. Diana Rigg is note-perfect as Higgins's exquisitely regal mother. Roberta Taylor is suitably savvy as his housekeeper, Peter Eyre's vocal warmth makes him ideal as Colonel Pickering, and Michael Feast... does a solid job ... While there are nice moments in Philip Prowse's production, we never feel there's enough at stake ... In accentuating the play's darkness, Prowse reminds one just how much added sugar there is in its musical version My Fair Lady. But this interpretation lacks subtlety. Shaw's psychological acuity and linguistic brilliance are rarely apparent. Prowse's emphasis on the theatricality of Higgins's efforts and Eliza's transformation makes them less humane, and the conclusion he's fancifully tacked on seems misguided.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Prowse, who doubles as director and designer, has lumbered the piece with sets that tiresomely locate the piece in a plush Edwardian theatre ... He has also come up with an unnecessary new ending ... And then there is the problem of casting Rupert Everett in the key role of Henry Higgins ... Everett... brings something louche and predatory to the stage that seems entirely wrong for the character ... Nevertheless the wit, wisdom and high spirits of the play ensure that this Pygmalion just about survives the misguided contributions of its director and leading man. Kara Tointon in particular... makes a terrific West End stage debut ... There is a warmth and vulnerability shown here that marks her out as an actress of great potential. Peter Eyre is the perfect Pickering... while Diana Rigg captures Mrs Higgins’s amused impatience with her unmannerly son. And though Michael Feast... doesn’t yet have the required fluency as Alfred Doolittle, there is a quality of wheedling cunning in his performance that suggests he will soon be completely at home in the part. This certainly isn’t a great Pygmalion... But even a second-rate Pygmalion is better than no Pygmalion at all."

- Brenna Weingus


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