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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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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern to be broadcast live





20 APRIL 2017

The Old Vic’s 50th anniversary production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, directed by David Leveaux and with a cast including Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig, will be broadcast live from The Old Vic to cinemas around the UK on 20 April 2017 as part of NT Live (dates vary internationally).

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is The Old Vic’s first collaboration with NT Live; and also marks the 50th anniversary of the original National Theatre production premiering at The Old Vic on 11 April 1967.

Against the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this mind-bending situation comedy sees two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), take centre stage. Increasingly out of their depth, the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of this iconic drama. In a literary hall of mirrors, Stoppard’s brilliantly funny, existential labyrinth sees us witness the ultimate identity crisis.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead previews at The Old Vic from Saturday 25 February, and will run until 29 April.

Artistic Director Matthew Warchus commented:

‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead premiered here 50 years ago as a brand new play steeped in theatrical tradition but forging a revolutionary new path in playwriting. It’s thrilling to welcome it home to The Old Vic to celebrate such a momentous anniversary, in a season which sees new writing and classics from the past shoulder to shoulder. Even more so to be able to share this new production with a global audience in our first live performance broadcast from The Old Vic.’



Daniel Radcliffe plays Rosencrantz. Daniel is a stage and screen actor whose most recent work includes the films Now You See Me 2, Swiss Army Man and Imperium, as well as the production of Privacy (Donmar Warehouse on Broadway). Forthcoming work includes Jungle (slated for release in 2017). Theatre credits include The Cripple of Inishmaan (Noël Coward Theatre and Broadway), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Broadway) and Equus (Gielgud Theatre and Broadway). Film work includes Horns (2013), What If (2013), Kill Your Darlings (2013), The Woman in Black (2012) and the eight Harry Potter films. Television includes My Boy Jack written by and co-starring David Haig (ITV),The Gamechangers (BBC telefilm), A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Extras and voice work in The Simpsons, Robot Chicken and BoJack Horseman.
Joshua McGuire plays Guildenstern. Joshua is an actor whose work spans theatre, television and film. Theatre credits include Future Conditional (The Old Vic), The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios), Amadeus (Chichester), Privacy (Donmar Warehouse), The Magistrate (National Theatre), Posh (Royal Court and West End), 66 Books (Bush Theatre), Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Globe), Hay Fever (Rose Kingston). Film work includes Old Boys (2017), Claudio in The Complete Walk: Measure for Measure (2016), Bees Make Honey (2016), Cinderella (2015), Mr Turner (2014), Get Santa (2014) and About Time (2013). TV includes Lovesick series 1 and 2, which is currently on Netflix, Love, Nina, Siblings, You, Me and Them, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, The Hour and Misfits.
David Haig plays The Player. David’s most recent theatre credits include Blue/Orange (Young Vic), Guys & Dolls (Savoy Theatre, Olivier Award nomination), and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me at Chichester Festival Theatre where previous credits include Pressure which was also written by David and Yes, Prime Minister, which transferred to the West End. Other theatre credits include The Madness of George III (Theatre Royal Bath and West End, Olivier Award nomination), Mary Poppins (Prince Edward Theatre, Olivier Award nomination), Hitchcock Blonde (Royal Court and West End), Donkey’s Years (Comedy Theatre, Olivier Award Nomination), Art (Wyndham’s and Broadway), and Our Country’s Good at the Royal Court, for which David won the Olivier Award for Best Actor. Television credits include The Witness for the Prosecution, The Thick Of It, Mo, The 39 Steps, My Boy Jack, Talking Heads and The Thin Blue Line. Film credits include Florence Foster Jenkins and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Other cast includes Hermeilio Miguel Aquino as Courtier (A View of Her Own Beauty at Bush Theatre), Louisa Beadel as a Player (Future Conditional at The Old Vic), William Chubb as Polonius (King Lear at The Old Vic), Josie Dunn as a Player (After Orlando at Theatre Royal Stratford East/The Vaults), Matthew Durkan as a Player (Nell Gwynn at Apollo Theatre/Shakespeare’s Globe), Tim van Eyken as Laertes/Player (The Little Match Girl, Open Heart Productions), Wil Johnson as Claudius (King Lear at Royal Exchange, Emmerdale, Adulthood), Luke Mullins as Hamlet (Endgame with the Melbourne Theatre Company, Waiting for Godot at The Barbican Centre), Theo Ogundipe as Horatio (Cymbeline at RSC), Marianne Oldham as Gertrude (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at Chichester Festival Theatre, Sons Without Fathers at The Arcola), Evlyne Oyedokun as a Player (E15, Lung Theatre), Alex Sawyer as a Player (BBC’s Father Brown) and Helena Wilson as Ophelia (Romeo and Juliet, OUDS/Thelma Holt International Tour).



By Tom Stoppard


The Old Vic

The Cut, London SE1 8NB


Sat 25 Feb – Sat 29 Apr 2017

Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Wed & Sat 2.30pm

Captioned Performance: Thu 6 Apr 7.30pm

Audio Described Performance:

Tue 4 Apr 7.30pm, touch tour 6pm


National Theatre Live broadcast – 20th April

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