Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pygmalion by QTC

Melanie Zanetti looks about 40 in this 'photo', but looks about 18 in real life.
If you loved the feel-good score of My Fair Lady, you'll already be familiar with the story of Pygmalion. Directed by Michael Gow, the piece is showing at QPAC's Playhouse after being delayed by the Queensland floods. Since I'd been putting off viewing the show for a few weeks, I finally got to see it last night and thought it was alright. It has a lot of weaknesses, but its cast is lead by two very good actors and experiencing the script was worthwhile.

The cast are pretty good with the stand-outs for me being the two leads. The prolific Melanie Zanetti plays Eliza Doolittle, a shrill street-rat who throughout the story is transformed into glamorous and 'proper' lady. I hated the character, but also feel that Zanetti's portrayal of the character is exactly as it should have been - really tedious to begin with before her transformation to a respectable (hilarious) woman. Robert Coleby's performance of Professor Higgins was thoroughly enjoyable, totally embodying and personifying misogyny through every minutiae of his body as a wonderfully frank and witty character. I disliked Gow's direction for the ensemble, which involved the overplaying of several minor roles. The ensemble seemed under-utilised, and when they did find a use for them it seemed inappropriate - the introduction to each scene by the chorus members were totally unnecessary and detracted from the immersion of the play. Unfortunately Shaw writes gargantuan chunks for Alfred Doolittle to speak every time he enters the stage, so anything involving Chris Betts on stage just made me want to die. I just couldn't maintain my interest in anything being said and couldn't contain my desire to eat the delicious Coles' brand coke bottle lollies in my bag. There were dozens of times where I couldn't hear lines properly because the accents were so atrocious, spoken too fast, or not enunciated properly.
Robert Coleby (Higgins) and Melanni Zanetti (Eliza).
It needs to be said that the first stage of Eliza's transformation and meeting with Mrs. Higgins was nothing short of incredible. Perfectly orchestrated, Zanetti parades around the stage awkwardly shouting "HOW DO YOU DOOO?" at the cast, and her long winded statements about the weather and how her aunt died of pneumonia had me howling with laughter - I didn't have a problem being the only one in the theatre laughing. I loved the follow up with a delightfully excited Kerith Atkinson as Clara tries to emulate her behaviour believing it to be stylish. Combined with the snide comments of Professor Higgins the scene is an absolute riot. 

What I LOVE about Pygmalion is its witty script. It's oozing with all these cracking situational comments, tongue-in-cheek remarks on society and misogynistic slander. I don't care what other people think, misogyny is funny because it's so absurd - and when people get offended by it, it's hilarious. I think the script, of Act One at least, was probably my favourite aspect of the play. It's a glorious mirror to what Victorian society was like, and to an extent Gow has directed the piece in areas to have relevant commentary on how our modern society works. My absolute favourite moment was during the fantastic scene at the end of Act One, when discussing the word 'fuck' ('bloody' in the original script) Clara remarks "Such nonsense, all this early Victorian prudery!". I think it's genius of Shaw (and Gow) to make a teasing observation of the social hierarchy - why all this stuffy behaviour over a word? "And it's so quaint, and gives such a smart emphasis to things that are not in themselves very witty." Too fucking right. Regrettably the script does seem to lag at moments in Act One, and then eventually curls up and dies at the end of Act Two. By the piece's conclusion, all around me people were yawning, sighing and examining their nails. I just wasn't invested at all, and I was just thinking about eating ice-cream (you know, those cheap, nasty ice-cream cones from Maccas for 50 cents) and imaging how hard it would be to play the keyboard part in Iris. The final scenes are exasperatingly long and it seemed like everything was just going around in circles.
Robert Coleby (Higgins) and Melanni Zanetti (Eliza).
The sound design was unbelievably boring. I'm not sure if it's the Playhouse, or QTC, or both, but the sound was just dead since it didn't go anywhere across the audience. The voices of the actors seemed to be hollow and didn't resonate (that's definitely due to acoustics), and due to the lack of the noise surrounding us in the voices and effect there was no immersion into the play. It was very obvious that the audience was watching a play rather than being drawn into another world. It's difficult to say why the choices of songs seemed inappropriate, particularly the ending song, but the over-romanticised soundtrack that was ripped from the 50s or something didn't fit into a 19th century setting. It would have been more suitable to have an instrumental soundtrack, there could have been some great musical commonality with The Entrance of the Queen of Sheba as it was mentioned in the script.

I enjoyed the set design, which was a use multiple scrim to reveal different areas and locations of the play. A clever use of the scrim was using a small follow-spot navigates around a gigantic detailed map of London to shift the action of the play without the need to move the set. While I mostly liked what was happening on the stage overall there is so much wasted space. There is a wonderful sense of Victorian lavishness in the set, but above the actor's shoulders there was nothing going on. Too much wasted space for such a witty and intimate show. I have no idea what they could have put up there, but anything would have been better than the nothing that was there.

So overall I liked Pygmalion due to the acting and the script, but there were some poor direction choices in terms of the cast, the sound is a disappointment and the set has a lot of wasted space. Since the script also lags in some areas overall there wasn't enough immersion from the production to keep an audience totally captured for the duration. Regardless, the show was enjoyable for what it was. Whatever that is. And it's worth seeing so you can live that glorious scene at the end of Act One.

Tickets for Queensland Theatre Company's Pygmalion range from $30 to $75, and is showing until November 27th. Book by visiting QPAC's website or by calling 136 246.


  1. I felt very sad that you never get any comments on your blog.

    So here is one. Just for you.

    (I don't actually have any opinion over this show or anything, this is a message of love and happiness)

  2. she is great, just saw the battle of damned, she was so good, even to good for such a movie. she is so babe