We are remarkably lucky, here in York, to have so many very good amateur dramatic companies.
Pick Me Up Theatre is well known for taking on complex shows, and doing them very well. Their current production, My Fair Lady, does not disappoint.
My Fair Lady by Pick Me Up Theatre
Grand Opera House, York
Till Sat Nov 25 2017
The success of this show rests on the shoulders of those playing the two main characters – Henry Higgins (Rory Mulvihill) and Eliza Doolittle (Toni Feetenby).
Feetenby creates a totally plausible Eliza, one whom we can see develop from flower girl, to socialite, to confident woman who will not be bossed around by Higgins.
Even the way she walks and sits changes through the show. Her voice is beautiful, and she puts real glee into Just You Wait and Without You.
Mulvihill clearly enjoys the role of Higgins, taking great joy in, for example, making poor Pickering jump when he roars at him in An Ordinary Man.
His performance teeters on the edge, but never goes over the top. I particularly enjoyed his final scene with his mother, where we see a hint of the sulky schoolboy he must have been.
I was unsure at first whether I liked the choice of having Mulvihill sing Higgins’ songs, which were famously delivered by Rex Harrison (and many actors since) in what Harrison himself dubbed “speak-singing”.
Mulvihill undeniably has a strong and versatile singing voice, but I felt by the end that his singing of the lines didn’t quite work.
The lyrics of the songs in My Fair Lady, unlike those of many musicals, actually move the show along, and we need to hear some of those key phrases delivered more crisply.
Mark Hird gives us a Colonel Pickering who is warm and endearing, even loveable, with perfect comic timing.
Barbara Johnson is an engaging and amusing Mrs Higgins, Henry’s mother and an unexpected champion of Eliza. Andy Stone as Alfred P Doolittle, Eliza’s father, gives a spirited and full throttle performance.
The undeniable star of the supporting cast, however, is Sam Hird as the lovelorn Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
It’s very easy to play this part as a bit of a drip, a chinless wonder. Sam gives us a Freddy we can believe in, rather sweet and unworldly, and his fantastic performance of On the Street Where You Live drew a level of applause that was very well deserved.
The total cast is sizeable, which was lovely to see in the crowd scenes. Too many times I have seen amateur performances – not in York, I hasten to say! – where four or five people have tried their best to be a crowd.
There really is no substitute for filling the stage if you can. A number of them played more than one part, which necessitated some quick (and complete) costume changes.
The impressive choreography really used the stage and the numbers of dancers to its advantage. The scenery was hardworking and versatile, giving us ten or more different venues, and the lighting was well-designed.
The costumes were beautiful, although I was sad to see Ascot Gavotte was not performed solely in black and white outfits. I also wondered how many ankles should really have been shown at the Embassy Ball.
There were a few fluffs and missteps on this first night – including the horn of the gramophone making a bid for freedom, twice – but the only real problem was the sound.
On one side of the stage, the sound was not always clear, and on the other, it was occasionally absent altogether. The balance was also not all that it should have been, especially when the orchestra was in full swing and the whole cast was singing, when it was deafeningly loud.
At times, the orchestra also seemed to be getting distorted, making the woodwind and brass sound sharp.
Having said this, it rarely spoiled my enjoyment of the show. I was sad to see that the house was only around half full, and I hope that the rest of the week brings the larger numbers this show deserves.