My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, was met with a rapturous reception – setting records for the longest running Broadway show and creating a popular film starring Audrey Hepburn. Exeter Footlights’ reprisal, almost exactly 60 years later, combines the crackle and charm of the original stage production with a healthy dose of modern gender politics.
Corin Vafidis, starring in his second Footlights production of the year, dazzles as the exacting and pompous Henry Higgins, and shows exceptional range as both actor and singer; in particular, his rendition of ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’ brilliantly closed the show with a heart-wrenching display of emotion.
combines the crackle and charm of the original stage production with a healthy dose of modern gender politics
Opposite him, Grace Proctor is magnificent as the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle – her own performance growing in strength as the play went on in a reflection of her character’s development. Particularly impressive was her mastery of both Eliza’s initial Cockney accent and the manicured ‘Queen’s English’ later adopted, and her self-suffused challenge in Show Me was a delight to watch.
Emily Lafoy acts as an excellent foil in the role of the gender-swapped Pickering, serving as a balance between the two and garnering plenty of laughs with perfectly-timed line delivery. Ashlyn Coyne and Daniel Stanger-Cornwell also provided outstanding comic relief as the parents of the pair in their caricature-like performances of a snooty, upper-class lady and ne’er-do-well dustman, mastering physical comedy and keeping the tone frothy and light.
it was impossible to escape immersion in each and every scene
The band were unsung heroes under the supervision of Musical Director Harry Smith, beautifully recreating the original soundtrack and punctuating the actors’ movements with driving percussion and soaring strings in a packed Lemmy. The brass and wind sections had me stamping my foot in time throughout every musical number despite never having experienced the story before, and it was impossible to escape immersion in each and every scene – the music simply whisked you away to a box in Ascot, an embassy ball or a Covent Garden street. Coupled with wonderful vocal performances (some battling through faulty microphones), every aspect of the score was a treat.
The real star of the show, however, was the inch-perfect choreography throughout. Lillie Bone did a superb job as choreographer, with every song (in particular the show-stopping Get Me to the Church on Time) boasting intricate dancing and footwork by a large cast. In a setlist consisting of 15 unique numbers, the attention-to-detail and precision should be recognised as an astounding achievement.
Director Harry Neal should be also applauded for the quality of the production – the mere fact that a three hour play seemed to disappear as quickly as Eliza’s Cockney tones is testament enough to the frenetic pace, upbeat tone and meticulous performances of My Fair Lady. The script re-writes perfectly accompany this; instead of returning to Higgins at the end of the play, Eliza joins the suffragettes in a culmination of her character arc. One audience member was heard remarking that it was the best amateur production she had ever witnessed, and I can’t help but agree. Each of the four nights that My Fair Lady ran for was sold out, and I feel deeply sorry for anyone that missed out on this virtuoso performance. The pain-staking effort of everyone involved (be they cast, band, creative team or publicity) was obvious, and perfectly concluded the year at Exeter.