A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

music
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

KISS OF LIFE FROM MY FAIR LADY (article first published : 2007-02-12)

Fairies lit the stars and angels peeked from behind ornate Tudor windows in the Durban Playhouse theatre of my youth. Today, the stars gleam a bit brighter and even the angels heaved a sigh of relief as the Playhouse Company gave the city’s ailing theatre scene the kiss of life with its latest, and arguably greatest, festive production – Lerner & Loewe’s sparkling musical, My Fair Lady.

And what a triumph it was! An actor’s dream, with rave reviews from the most irascible critics, and standing ovations from the audience, night after night, after night….

As Freddie Eynsford-Hill’s domineering mum, and an oldie amongst a largely youthful, exuberant cast, I was more aware than most of what a privilege it was to be part of a production which scaled West End theatre heights, here in my own home town.

Like Professor Henry Higgins, CEO of the Playhouse Linda Bukhosini should get a medal – or, at least, an award! - for staging this brilliant piece of musical theatre, never skimping when she drew from the pool of available talent. Always professional, seldom impatient, her team of director Steven Stead, KZN Philharmonic conductor Graham Scott, choreographer Mark Hawkins, set designer Greg King and costume designer Neil Stuart-Harris laid the ground-work for the magic created on-stage by a gifted cast and orchestra.

The lush African décor, restaurant, coffee shop, lounges and bars also played their part in reminding the 30,000 or more who saw the show what a treat a trip to the theatre can be. With productions as diverse as the St. Petersburg Ballet performing Swan Lake and Giselle, and Mbongeni Ngema’s foot-stomping new musical, 1906: Bhambatha the Freedom Fighter planned for this year, the Playhouse is set to attract all sectors of the community back through its doors.

A special spin-off of My Fair Lady’s phenomenal success is the way it drew the audience back into the CBD. Locals and holiday-makers who haven’t been there for years put their fears aside to re-discover the joys of the new Playhouse and the still-stylish Royal Hotel, without being mugged or solicited or having their car stolen. You can walk down Acutt Street at 3 in the morning, and the cheery car guard Langley or one of his team will make sure you get to your car without incident. Believe me. I’ve done it a few times of late.

With all these great changes to celebrate, the choice of a play about transformation seemed to be fitting. Only The Citizen questioned whether the decision to stage My Fair Lady wasn’t, perhaps, altogether PC. It’s an interesting question, especially in a country still working towards transformation itself.

In reply, I’d say that any doubts of my own as to the relevance of a Eurocentric musical in a still emerging South Africa were dispensed with on the first day of rehearsal. Reminding a cast and crew drawn from different cultures and backgrounds that My Fair Lady was adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Steven Stead described it as one of the few musicals which is not about romantic love. Underlying the wit of the dialogue, and the fun-filled froth happening on stage, are the playwright’s social concerns on matters only too familiar today - issues such as discrimination, and divisions created by a use of language which breeds an innate sense of supremacy.

The Covent Garden flower-girl, Eliza, sets her heart on becoming a lady in a flower shop. With help from Higgins, she conquers the strangled vowel sounds that keep her in her place, far exceeding her original goal. Yet it’s a mistake to think that Shaw’s saying we need to talk posh to get on. His central message is that the autocratic Prof. Higgins himself had a lot to learn about human dignity, courtesy and sound values from his feisty young pupil. It’s these qualities, rather than the lady-like veneer she acquires, that wins eventual respect from her teacher.

Another aspect - Eliza’s example of the will to succeed – was also not lost on the cast during the run. In the last act I would stand in the wings, watching Ralph Lawson infuse his arrogant Higgins with the boyish charm which makes sense of Eliza’s return. A young Phenduka dancer watched with me, silently speaking the lines uttered on stage. His reason? Like Eliza, he wants to advance his career .As both dancer and actor, he would double his chances of work. By listening to Ralph, he was getting free lessons from the best in the business in how to deliver lines clearly, using the right stress, pace and inflections – basic tools of the trade. Other dancers and singers were equally mesmerised – even as we lined up for the curtain to rise on the famous Ascot Gavotte, some were listening intently to the actors out front.

The Playhouse Company is actively building towards the future, giving young artists the chance to develop their talents, and the opportunities offered are being grabbed with both hands. There’s nothing politically incorrect about that!

George Bernard Shaw had a dream, a belief that an international alphabet would level the language playing fields for all. He even left a whopping great sum in his will to further that dream, but despite a competition being organized, the alphabet designed, and a handsome prize awarded, the winning alphabet never caught on. His legacy to theatre, however, lives on: as one of the ghosts of Playwrights Past, he was up there with the angels and fairies, as the cast of My Fair Lady took the last bow on New Year’s Eve, and the audience rose to their feet, calling loudly for More! – Margaret Logan




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart