Review: Pygmalion (UTS Backstage)

utsbackstageVenue: Bon Marche Studio (Ultimo NSW), Oct 1 – 4, 2015
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw (adapted by Joanna Griffiths)
Director: Joanna Griffiths
Cast: Emma Barrett, Ben Chapple, Jack Clark, Elizabeth Collins, Tom Crotty, Remy Danoy, Norah George, Kate Gogolewski, Cameron Hart, Xavier Holt, Blake O’Brien, Mikaela Rundle, Steph Stuart, Adam Teusner, Beattie Tow
Image by Christopher Quyen

Theatre review
Joanna Griffith’s retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion explores the dark facets of the century old story, bringing to focus issues of race, gender and class that can easily be obscured by its own lighter elements. The production is part traditional, part contemporary, and it is the inconceivable juxtaposition of the two, on the same stage, that gives the show a thrilling edge. The inventive use of symbols and abstraction to accompany the antiquated dialogue provides a refreshing theatrical experience and the messages conveyed are at times, quite powerful.

There is a lot of flair in Griffith’s adventurous approach. Her outlandish flourishes, including several segments of dance, as well as a quirky take on Eliza Doolittle’s original voice (possibly an African accent), uses the medium of performance to communicate passionate ideas in an abstract but surprisingly effective way. Presentation of the show’s more conventional segments require greater sophistication, but solid work by its lead actors Mikaela Rundle and Adam Teusner help to keep us engaged. Rundle’s creativity and exuberance as Eliza provide us with abundance of food for thought, along with delightful entertainment value. Her talents in movement are a highlight and the foundation for the most memorable sequences of the production. Professor Higgins is charmingly portrayed by Teusner who displays a strong understanding of the text and its intentions. His ability to finely balance old-fashioned comedy with contemporary political concerns demonstrates sensitivity and intelligence.

This thoughtful rendition of Pygmalion plays with a range of deeply interesting concepts and presents them in unexpected ways. Its daring impulses fascinate and challenge, but are never simplistic or callow. Technical executions can be fine tuned at many levels, but their design and purpose are beautifully imagined. It is important to think about subtexts and subtle implications of every story we tell, and on this occasion, we discover meaning in everything.