My Fair Lady review – comedy and chemistry light up Opera North’s musical-theatre triumph

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The Lord supra gave man an limb of iron: truthful says Alfred Doolittle, England’s astir original moralist. By creation alternatively than luck, James Brining’s caller My Fair Lady (a co-production by Opera North and Leeds Playhouse) gives its Prof Higgins conscionable nan opposite. Loose-limbed, soft-edged and chaotic, his susceptible exemplary of masculinity – group against an Eliza of unwavering wit and self-possession – offsets nan book’s occasional misogyny, successful a accumulation that takes its interrogation of societal mobility earnestly but still conjures up plentifulness of drama and chemistry on nan way.

Casting opera singers successful philharmonic theatre tin spell very good aliases very badly; successful nan lawsuit of soprano Katie Bird – for illustration overmuch of nan cast, a personnel of Opera North’s chorus – it’s axenic inspiration. From her very first “loverly”, sheis an irresistible Eliza: radiantly sung, innately funny and thoroughly plausible successful a characterisation that avoids cliche connected some sides of her “rain successful Spain” transformation. John Hopkins’s Higgins takes a small longer to deed his stride, but I’m an Ordinary Man finds him visibly, if not ever audibly, successful his element, and nan brittle, laugh-or-cry power he brings to his later scenes pinch (and without) Eliza is compelling.

More conventional, but nary little appealing, Richard Mosley-Evans is simply a twinkling, Falstaffian Alfred Doolittle – he and his chorus colleagues make operatic merry pinch I’m Getting Married successful nan Morning successful peculiar – while Ahmed Hamad is simply a fresh-voiced, starry-eyed Freddy and Dean Robinson an impish Col Pickering. In a world of self-absorbed men, Brining is observant to item Eliza’s female allies: Helen Évora’s softly compassionate Mrs Pearce, and Miranda Bevin’s indomitable Mrs Higgins. The orchestra of Opera North turns its manus to philharmonic theatre arsenic deftly arsenic its singers, playing pinch sparkling lightness of touch nether conductor Oliver Rundell.

Dean Robinson arsenic Col Pickering (left) and John Hopkins arsenic Henry Higgins creation arm-in-arm
Dean Robinson arsenic Col Pickering (left) and John Hopkins arsenic Henry Higgins successful My Fair Lady. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Madeleine Boyd’s single, hybrid set, pinch Higgins’s filing cabinets stacked atop Doolittle’s glazed-brick pub, and gramophones and flower-carts wheeled successful arsenic needed, is evocatively Edwardian, arsenic are her costumes – jewel tones for Eliza, muted greys for precocious nine – and Guy Hoare’s gas-lamp lighting design. Boyd’s and Brining’s hilarious solution to nan infamous Ascot scene, needfully staged present pinch neither Cecil Beaton’s dresses nor his budget, is particularly inspired.

Tempting arsenic it is to people My Fair Lady as a Cinderella story, nan truth is messier: Eliza grasps agelong earlier Higgins does that nan outward markers of different societal people won’t automatically unafraid her each its privileges, and upward mobility connected its ain can’t guarantee a happy ending. The pair’s reunion successful nan last moments of nan show has ever been ambiguous. Here, poignantly, it’s hinted she whitethorn not person returned astatine each – aliases astatine slightest not yet.

Source theguardian