Review: Pygmalion, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

It's a sobering thought that George Bernard Shaw's play, now over 100 years old, still has so much to say about British society '“ and particularly its continuing collective obsession with class.

Gavi Singh Chera and Natalie Gavin in Pygmalion. CREDIT: Manuel Harlan.
Gavi Singh Chera and Natalie Gavin in Pygmalion. CREDIT: Manuel Harlan.

West Yorkshire Playhouse’s imaginative retelling, in collaboration with Headlong and Nuffield Southampton Theatres, transposes the action to the here and now with Eliza Doolittle as a Bradford-accented flower seller (a fine, feisty performance from Natalie Gavin) being tutored by linguistics professor Henry Higgins (a superbly arrogant Alex Beckett) so that she can ‘talk proper’ and blend into high society. Using hi-tech sound design and film inserts, the production intelligently explores issues around the semantics of identity, gender and education.

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Alfred Doolittle’s direct address to the audience about his status as one of the ‘undeserving poor’ (a judgmental Victorian phrase that has its modern equivalent in words such as ‘shirker’, ‘scrounger’ and ‘chav’) speaks eloquently to many of our current socio-political preoccupations.

These are the serious themes, and they still hold true, but this is also one of the 20th century’s most celebrated comedies – and it is very funny. There are some tremendous one-liners and Shaw’s wry observations on human foibles and ridiculous social niceties are spot-on.

To February 25.