Theatre Review: My Fair Lady is a faithful, surprisingly emotionally complex rendition (Now Playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre)

Melbourne’s Regent Theatre was filled up to the brim with people for My Fair Lady on Tuesday night, in anticipation for yet another classic tale of, well… not-quite-love, but respectability and a blossoming companionship.

My Fair Lady needs no introduction. Its a story that has been cherished since the film of the 1940s, and as George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion before then. What makes it relevant today is its absolute frankness that things don’t seem clean cut. There are hardly any happy endings, and we can’t always see what we have in people until it’s too late.

It was this reviewer’s first ever experience with the story of My Fair Lady – I have never seen the movie, nor heard about any of the folklore behind the director of this production, Julie Andrews – who rather take on Audrey Hepburn’s role in the film (after appearing on stage with the original production in New York City) went on to do Mary Poppins and then get all the Oscar accolades. I had no idea about its revivals in the 70s and 80s and I also fleetingly thought that this was a simple rags-to-riches story rather than a complex tale about missed opportunity, chance and emotion.

Opera Australia took up the mantle of bringing this production to Australia, and it has already been impressing audiences in other cities. The regularity of doing shows in both Sydney and Brisbane has worked particularly for this production here in Melbourne.

Anna O’Byrne has certainly improved since our Sydney assessment – she captures the stage in an enchanting way in the role of Eliza Dolittle and transforms into a role that’s quite emotionally complex. Downton Abbey’s Charles Edwards, brings a surly, acidic Henry Higgins to the stage, which in a way is perfect for the character, but also biting. The hisses are heard all around the theatre when an insult thrown towards Dolittle which showed a sense of reality that Jennings has brought to the character. However sometimes, these remarks seem anarchic and downright belligerent in these times.

Other members of the ensemble shine as well. Reg Livermore as Alfred Dolittle is delightful and owns the stage when he dances and prances in his starring numbers. Mark Vincent also makes an impact with a smooth croon that just melts. Vincent is comfortable on the stage and surely will do well with hopefully more lead roles on stage in the future.

The costume design must be mentioned as impeccable – an arduous, but wonderful task since it is attempting to revive the original designs and look of the original production (as a side note original costumes from productions of My Fair Lady in the 1950s were displayed in the foyer, which were a great addition to opening night).

My Fair Lady stays true to its roots, and that’s fine. However, questions over the relevance of this play in today’s diverse theatre environment came to mind – particularly in Australia. While this story does bridge gaps between society classes, there was a lingering thought about the whiteness of it all, and whether it will appeal to those who also probably want to think out of the box with their theatre.

But besides this, this production poses all the nostalgia kick enjoyment one can get, and kudos needs to be given for the ambiguos nature of the ending, where girl doesn’t necessarily fall for the boy. If that’s what you love in your theatre, then My Fair Lady is right up your alley.

My Fair Lady is now playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, and returns to Sydney in August. For tickets and more details, head to the official website.

Photo by Jeff Busby. The reviewer attended the production on opening night, 16th May 2017.