Review: My Fair Lady, Leeds Playhouse, Thursday, June 13, 2024

Lerner & Loewe’s enduring musical is currently packing them in at Leeds Playhouse. I still recall a lavish touring production of My Fair Lady, back in the 1960’s at the Grand Theatre. In those days, shows arrived and departed like the circus coming to town. The amazing thing now is that excellent opera, dance and musical theatre is created in the heart of Leeds. Then it goes on tour.

This opulent staging is a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse and Leeds based Opera North. Thanks to the marvellous Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Oliver Rundell, Frederick Loewe’s legendary musical score acquires a cinematic gloss. Soprano Katie Bird has sung Mimi in La Boheme and Hanna in the Merry Widow. Now she tackles the tortured vowels of feisty Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle, as Professor Higgins teaches her to speak like a duchess. There’s versatility for you!

The sparks fly between Eliza and the energised Higgins of John Hopkins. Hopkins reveals a pleasing baritone within his parlando (half-sung, half-spoken) delivery of Higgins’ famous numbers including: Why Can’t the English? A Hymn to Him, and poignantly, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face. Dean Robinson’s level headed Colonel Pickering strives to keep Higgins in check.

Richard Mosley-Evans portrays Eliza’s father, Alfred P Doolittle, a moralising dustman. Doolittle, with Tim Ochala-Greenough and Nicholas Butterfield as boozing companions Jamie and Harry, leads the big showstoppers: With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me to the Church on Time. Mark Burghagen creates a compelling cameo as the obnoxious Professor Zoltan Karpathy.

James Brining’s sensitively thought- through production underlines the rigid upstairs and below stairs class structure of Edwardian era London in 1912. Helen Evora’s firm but fair Mrs Pearce, housekeeper to Higgins, and her staff make their entrances and exits via a stage trapdoor. Occupying the higher stratas of society are Mrs Higgins, Henry’s kindly, no nonsense mother, wonderfully portrayed by Miranda Bevin, and Mrs Eynsford-Hill (Molly Barker) with her lovesick son Freddy (Ahmed Hamad). Freddy sings Eliza’s praises in his charming song On the Street Where You Live.

Controversy surrounds the ambiguous ending of My Fair Lady. Eliza returns to Higgins’ house in Wimpole Street, but does she return for good? James Brining leaves the question open. Eliza stands alone, solemnly facing the audience. The lights slowly dim as Higgins’ last desperate cry is heard: “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?” Unmissable.

My Fair Lady continues at Leeds Playhouse until June 29.