Theatre in Wales

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An Equally Sparkling Eliza Two

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Arts Centre- My Fair Lady , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August 17, 2008
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by Aberystwyth Arts Centre- My Fair Lady Bart Becht, unlike Bert Brecht, is not a name that is familiar in theatrical circles. Acknowledged as the world’s leading exponent of brand extension he is the reason a square old product like gaviscon gets to occupy shelf upon pharmacy shelf in a dozen versions. Director Michael Bogdanov would not be flattered by the comparison but his selection of two, alternating leading ladies has something of the same allure to it.

Twenty performances on, this production has matured into near-on three hours of near continuous pleasure. For a musical whose subject matter is focused on tone and dialect it is a production that is appropriately rich in aural pleasures. Michael Howe’s voice is a wondrous instrument from the guttural of his riposte to Doolittle’s demand for money, to the whisper of contempt for his erstwhile pupil Karpathy, to its high pitch of frequent consternation. The voice of Terry Victor’s Colonel Pickering is equally rich, assuming a sonorous gloom when recalling his unintended encounter with Goetterdaemmerung.

Since the opening night “With a Little Bit of Luck” has acquired even more bacchanalian oomph with three Stomp-style dustbin lids strapped to dancers’ feet. Even in a minor musical part like the six domestics’ singing “Poor Professor Higgins” some beautiful harmonic singing is to be heard; all credit to musical director Michael Morwood.

A production of quality reaches through to every detail. Even the way in which the butler pronounces the word “dustman” has a fine-grained nuance to it. Kate Quinnell’s pronunciation of the second “o” in “Lisson Grove” is a joy to hear. Freddy Eynsford-Hill, frankly, must feature among one of the most thankless parts ever written- blame it all on Shaw for conceiving such a bloodless character. But Stewart Charlesworth’s tenor gives “On the Street where You Live” all that the lovely melody asks for; and he gets to double up as a high-kicking cockney.

A second viewing reveals more of the strength of the ensemble. Daniel Stockton and Paul Tate make an exuberant triple act alongside Ieuan Rhys’ Doolittle. Michael Howe reaches a point of real pain in the last scene after the verbal violence that has gone before. A second viewing also highlights the sparkle of Shaw’s language. The emotions may be sheen but the language dances.

As for Kate Quinnell’s Eliza hers is some achievement a year only out of Aber’s theatre department. In our winner-takes-all culture we should be reaching for the premium rate number to deliver a verdict on who comes top. Michael Bogdanov has said that he was genuinely stumped over whom to choose for the part. There is a couple of inches’ difference in height between Elin Llwyd and Kate Quinnell , and one is blonde, the other dark. But in talent and the playing of Eliza there is not a hair’s breadth of difference to be seen. For anyone planning to get to Aber’s summer production in its last week, spin a coin, for they are equals; better still see them both.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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