12. September 2023
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
A new production of Pygmalion is currently being staged at the Old Vic. I’d never seen the play, so went to check it out for myself.
First staged in 1913, the play has gone through many changes, though at the core stays the same. Linguistics professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering, who share an interest in phonetics and class structures, agree on a wager to transform Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a revered lady simply by changing the way she speaks, by teaching her to sound like the social elite and thus blend in effortlessly. Eliza jumps at the chance at a new life, but soon realizes that this exercise is not an easy one, being treated quite badly by the cantankerous Higgins, who heaps disdain on everyone he interacts with.
Within a few months, Eliza learns how to speak and act like a lady, but now fits neither into her previous life as a lowly but independent flower seller, nor into high society. The harsh manner in which Higgins treats her leads to her not wanting to be part of his life any more, seeking to show him that she deserves better despite her roots.
The show is quite far paced, and surprisingly funny with many moments in which Higgins is highlighted as a grumpy, elitist man, while Eliza struggles to understand why she is being treated as a lowly servant while being trained to pass for a lady.
I loved how dynamic and energetic the production was, despite being set over a hundred years in the past. Some of the themes of different classes and access to education and employment felt strangely timely, and centring a woman who was poor but stood on her own two feet, who was elevated into higher class living but had no agency any more, made it even more relevant.
Pygmalion is a fantastic production that has a lot to say, deeply entertaining and thought provoking while staying mostly light, funny, and easily digestible.