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POSTED: 10 MAY 2010

Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw

Genesian Theatre, Kent Street, Sydney | Until 19 June

It’s taken until May for the Genesian Theatre’s 2010 season to commence. It was worth the wait.

Genesian’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is enchanting. Director Owen Gimblett has revived a classic that has been performed countless times since its 1912 debut.

Many would be better acquainted with the musical adaptation, My Fair Lady. The advantage of Pygmalion, in my opinion, is that one is able to enjoy Shaw’s witty observations and clever dialogue without the interminable songs.

Based on the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with one of his ivory creations and wishes it brought to life, Shaw’s play explores class structure and morality, commenting on the role of women in society, incidentally, at the time when the suffragette movement was emerging as a force to be reckoned with.

The story of Pygmalion is rich in drama, comedy and even a bit of pathos. Ragged flower-seller Eliza Doolittle (Carissa Teeling) becomes the object of a wager between linguistic colleagues Henry Higgins (Roger Gimblett) and Colonel Pickering (Timothy Bennett). By refining her articulation to that of a ‘lady’, Higgins bets he can pass Eliza off as a duchess in refined circles. Success, however, is not as sweet or straightforward as he would have believed.

The performances of the leads — Gimblett, Teeling and Alfred Doolittle (Mark Langham) — are excellent. Gimblett is the consummate Higgins — egocentric, oblivious, and hilariously blunt. Teeling’s Eliza, while obviously influenced by Audrey Hepburn’s film version, is fiery, vulnerable and ultimately resilient. Langham manages to carry off some of Alfred’s more verbose contributions with clever humour and charm.

I don’t remember ever attending a production in which a scenery change is applauded, until last night. Owen Gimblett’s set design, created on an amateur budget, is nothing short of astounding. Despite some rough edges, what is achieved in a confined space really is an example of what is possible with determination, vision and probably a little bit of insanity!

In fact, the Genesian Theatre really does embody all that is wonderful about amateur theatre. A modest, threadbare space transformed by the devotion and passion of the company. A night at the Genesian is always a delight.

Park across the road in the $9 weekend-rate station, enjoy a drink and meal in one of the variety of cheap and cheerful pubs dotted around Kent Street, and spend a couple of hours with this dedicated theatrical company.

Could you find many other ways to have a lovely evening for two under $100 in the city? As Eliza Doolittle herself would say, “Not bloody likely!”

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