Tag Archives: George Bernard Shaw




Old Vic

PYGMALION at the Old Vic



“Carvel is all stooping eccentricity with a touch of Reginald Perrin”

When George Bernard Shaw wrote “Pygmalion” in 1912, its West End premiere was delayed due to the leading lady’s nervous breakdown. Instead, the German translation opened in Vienna followed by the New York production where it was described as a ‘love story with brusque diffidence and a wealth of humour’. Richard Jones’ revival at the Old Vic retains the ‘wealth of humour’, has exchanged the diffidence for a bold confidence, but as for ‘love story’ – that’s gone completely out the window. There is a mechanical edge to it that, despite being well-oiled and finely tuned, partially obscures its beating heart.

It opens quite spectacularly, to the angular, staccato strains of Tony Gayle’s modernist jazz chords – perhaps a touch too modern for the already updated setting. Stewart Laing’s circuit board backdrops are a bit of a puzzle, unless you accept that this may be a clever twist on the phrase ‘Code-Switching’: the term applied to changing your voice and dialect to fit into a new social environment. Jones’ production fully takes on board the concept of Professor Henry Higgins’ social experiment, and exudes the same detachment as though we are watching a presentation through glass.

It does enable us to focus on the central, magnified performances. Led by Bertie Carvel’s Henry Higgins and Patsy Ferran’s Eliza Doolittle, they cannot be accused of shying away. Carvel is all stooping eccentricity with a touch of Reginald Perrin though less unwitting. Preoccupied and arrogant, Carvel eradicates everything that might be likeable about his character. A character that stretches the patience of those initially loyal to him. Penny Layden gives one of the more heartfelt performances as his housekeeper, Mrs Pearce, and Sylvestra Le Touzel captures the exasperation of Higgin’s mother. But we are frustrated by Carvel’s Higgins remaining so impervious to everyone and everything around him.

“The urge to update and radicalise is always going to compete with the option of playing it safe.”

Carvel’s performance would steal the show if it weren’t for Ferran’s spirited no-nonsense Eliza Doolittle. Aware from the start that she is a vehicle for the professor’s sport, she is pragmatic and steely enough to rise above it. Ferran never loses her grip on humility, however, which ultimately gives her the upper hand. Hers is the one true draught of passion that disturbs the otherwise emotionally static production.

The best illustrations of George Bernard’s Shaw satire come from the supporting roles. Times have changed since Shaw wrote his ground-breaking play. Class and social mobility are much more blurred and the way one speaks is no longer a definition of one’s status. But other observations stand out and ring true. John Marquez, as Eliza’s bin-man father who “can’t afford morals”, is a delight to watch and is a master at comic delivery.

It is a very familiar story, but ‘ay, there’s the rub’. The urge to update and radicalise is always going to compete with the option of playing it safe. This production falls somewhere between the two. Whether it’s a direct consequence or not, we are tempted to question the sincerity and authenticity. Yet it is still a hugely entertaining piece of theatre, dominated by commanding performances. Despite being a little confused as to what time period it is being set in, we are indeed reminded of the timeless nature of the play and that its appeal will never go away.

PYGMALION at the Old Vic

Reviewed on 27th September 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



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The Brief Life & Mysterious Death Of Boris III, King Of Bulgaria | ★★★★★ | September 2023



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A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas – 3 Stars


A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas

Pentameters Theatre

Reviewed – 12th October 2018


boils up into something incompletely satisfying, though satisfying nonetheless


The voice of Bernard Shaw crackles like a tinny old wireless, sharing the postulate of Franklyn and Conrad Barnabas: that human life should span three-hundred years, increasing the complexity of modern society. This – the Creative Evolution – is a central idea explored in Shaw’s Back to Methuselah. It is worth pointing out that the Barnabases in question are characters from that very play. By introducing to the original petri dish new characters that elicit effervescent reactions, the production focusses on relationships.

Warm lights bring out a well-to-do 1920s living room full of gold gilt-edges of books, heavy-looking portraits and ceiling roses overhead, offering the glimpse into the heart of this boisterous domestic comedy.

They start as a pair; Franklyn (Edwin Flay) and Conrad (Anthony Wise) who teeter on the edge of clunky exposition as they outline their idea of Creative Evolution and its relevance to the situation at hand: that Clara, Franklyn’s wife, has left the household. Any clunkiness is forgotten when Franklyn’s brother-in-law, Immenso Champernoon (Jonas Cemm) enters the room. He is a brash, hilarious caricature of Shaw’s contemporary, G.K Chesterton (Shaw himself described the portrayal as libellous), who is shoe-horned into the play to commence a contest of ideas.

The rest of the cast are introduced one by one, bickering with Champernoon over the institution of marriage, eastern philosophy, the empire – a seemingly endless list of moral coordinates. Laura Fitzpatrick, as Franklyn’s wife and Immenso’s sister, Clara Barnabas, trails a knowing, contrariness around the stage, winding up the men in her midst and allowing them to argue over the fallout. Her daughter Savvy (Johanna Pearson-Farr) hams-up her flirtation with the Reverend Haslam (William Keetch), but this works with, not against, the action.

Cemm, as Champernoon, bears an uncanny likeness to Chesterton and every fast-paced line spat out with haughtiness feels like it might have been improvised by Chesterton himself. He puns and plays with paradox, blurting out words, arguments and ideas with a blistering wit that’s hard to keep up with at times.

With telegraphed nods to Shavian ideas of feminism and beauty, Mrs Etteen (Julia Faulkner) and Champernoon enter into a long and flirtatious quarrel. The gravity of these interactions is lost among the quick-fire comedy and, when it ends after eighty minutes, I can’t honestly remember having stopped to breathe.

This is a boisterous, rollicking, no-second-wasted production, although it is not without flaws. Published originally in a work entitled Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings, it follows that the structure of the thing is not wholly satisfying. There are no great payoffs to be found here, no sudden intakes of breath, no witty barbs building up, act after act, scene after scene. It is funny. But it all boils up into something incompletely satisfying, though satisfying nonetheless.


Reviewed by Sam Joseph


A Glimpse of the Domesticity of Franklin Barnabas

Pentameters Theatre until 21st October


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