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Review: Pygmalion

Girl selling flowers in the gutter becomes a lady with the help of two upper class men. All played out in Copenhagen Theater Circle's 'Pygmalion'

In Pygmalion, Henry Higgins, a phonetics professor, makes a bet that he can teach Eliza Doolittle, a lower class girl selling flowers on the street, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party. He focuses on improving her speech in order to make her more ladylike. The play includes a glimpse into the British class system as well as women’s roles and independence at the time.

In the Copenhagen Theatre Group’s version, George Bernard Shaw’s theatre classic Pygmalion is played out in a small venue where the actors perform on a floor just a few feet away from the audience, providing a very intimate experience. The cast of the show is made up of only five actors.

The theatre group is most successful with its use of lighting and sound. The backdrops are projected onto long white hanging sheets, while music is used to accentuate the images projected on the sheets, allowing easy and effective scene changes. The characters perform in simple dress with few costume changes. Vanessa Poole is especially impressive in her dual performance as Mrs Pearce and Mrs Higgins, switching seamlessly between the roles.

Unique intro

Pygmalion was first presented on stage in 1913. In the more than one hundred years since, various stage versions have been performed.

The Copenhagen Theatre Circle version of the play is made unique through an introduction by Astrid Lund, who also plays Eliza Doolittle.

Lund draws parallels between herself and Eliza, where both find themselves in new surroundings and must learn to fit in; Eliza moving into a higher societal circle through learning to speak eloquently and Lund moving to a new country through learning the Danish language.

Being a non-native…

Throughout the performance the scene returns to the present day, providing insight into Lund’s progress towards acquiring proficiency in Danish in parallel with Eliza’s progress in improving her English.

The play written by Shaw was the basis of the 1964 film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn. In the film adaptation, Eliza stays with the high class Higgins who first brought her out of the gutter. However, in the version performed by the Copenhagen Theatre Circle, Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford-Hill and they open a grocery store together!

Director Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen describes the process leading up to the opening night as a two month long journey including rehearsals held at various locations. He compares the difficulties which Eliza faces in terms of learning a sophisticated speaking style to his own difficulties in learning to speak Danish as a non-native speaker.

Good one for students

The parallels between class society and integrating into Danish society was brought out really well. I recommend it, in particular for international students who are not from Denmark.

Go see it!

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