My Fair Lady, Melbourne

“Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through.”

This was always my favourite song from Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady. Even with misguided-teen romance-goggles, I appreciated Eliza’s frustration with being told what to do, think and say. Show her! Show me! Show us!

Which is hard to do in a theatre that doesn’t let most of the audience connect with the show.

My Fair Lady. Image by Belinda Strodder
My Fair Lady. Image by Belinda Strodder

Opera Australia and John Frost have re-creacted the original 60-year-old iconic Broadway production. To bring some relevance (and bonus music-theatre nerd squee points), it was directed by Dame Julie Andrews, the first Eliza Doolittle.

And it is a glorious re-creation of a magnificent production. Those Cecil Beaton costumes! That Oliver Smith set! The Ascott Opening Race!

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, the story of the flower seller Eliza being taught how to be a “lady” by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins is well known. And as long as those romance-goggles don’t interfere with the idea of the very young woman falling for the much older man who treats her like scum and really doesn’t respect or like the women in his life, it’s an insightful reflection of the gender, class and social power that, sadly, rings as true today as it did 100 years ago.

What makes this production more than a re-creation is that contemporary opinions have shaped the performances.

Robyn Nevin as Mrs Higgins, Henry’s mother, and Deirdre Rubenstein as Mrs Pearce, Henry’s housekeeper, bring strength and power to the women who know how their social positions are controlled by others. Reg Livermore’s Alfred Doolittle and Tony Llewellyn-Jones’s Colonel Pickering balance clowning with the understanding of men who are beginning to lose their social power with age.

Charles Edwards (my Downton Abbey fan-heart smiled) lets Henry see his own absurdity, even if he refuses to budge. Edwards performance is excellent, but it is strange that there isn’t a middle aged, English-speaking actor in Australia who would have been just as terrific.

Which leaves Anna O’Byrne as Eliza. She’s wonderful. She ensures that Eliza’s choice to go to Higgins is far more than an attempt to escape poverty, and lets her heart break when she realises that her education may have left her with less than what she started with.

But if you’re sitting anywhere other than the first rows of this huge theatre, it’s difficult to appreciate what makes this more than a re-creation. It wasn’t designed or directed for the Regent Theatre. It’s visually magnificent and grand but its emotional power relies on performances and people. Even with such strong performances, I don’t know how Eliza feels in the final scene – I was too far away; even in good seats – which is the moment that makes or breaks a contemporary My Fair Lady.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

3 thoughts on “My Fair Lady, Melbourne

  • I saw it at QPAC in Brisbane and sat near the back part of the stalls. Fantastic show and heard every word clear as day! They must have fiddled with the sound settings at the Regent in Melbourne, or they need to make some adjustments. I could not find any fault in it in Brisbane. I am glad I saw it. Excellent cast, costumes, lighting, sets, direction and orchestra that didn’t drown out the singing.

  • The cost of a single seat at the rear of the stalls in the front half of the Regent is approximately $140. This area is normally decent seating where you can make out some of the small details on the costumes and have almost an extended lounge room view on what is going on, with the ticket price reflecting this. Based on the reviewer writing that she effectively couldn’t make out what was going on with Eliza in the final scene from her good seats, one wonders whether a family of four should hold off on buying tickets at the Regent until there has been an update from the production about their sound settings?? Or presumably if one needs to pay a higher fee for the good-GOOD seats sitting directly in front of the stage to have a good time watching this production?

  • Or from the reviewer saying that the show was ruined for her because she was so distant from the production in her good seats, one should perhaps rent out the DVD and have better entertainment, instead of paying a few hundred dollars to be a mile away from the action..


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