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Magnificent Michelle makes role her own

PUBLISHED: 19:42 29 May 2008 | UPDATED: 13:16 24 August 2010

by Will Davies Written in 1913, George Bernard Shaw s Pygmalion has been reproduced in numerous guises. From the musical My Fair Lady to Pretty Woma

by Will Davies

Written in 1913, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion has been reproduced in numerous guises.

From the musical My Fair Lady to Pretty Woman, the tale of the bad girl scrubbed up and done good has influenced many a treasured tale, including one of my favourite films, Educating Rita, with Michael Caine and Julie Walters.

Now it returns to the stage as Pygmalion, at one of London's truly great theatres, The Old Vic.

Tim Pigott-Smith plays Henry Higgins, the arrogant professor of phonetics who makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can turn Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a duchess.

As he teaches her how to speak with an upper class accent and trains her in etiquette, Pigott-Smith is certainly convincing, if not rather irksome.

His campness and over-enthusiasm for the role is, fortunately, offset by the magnificent Michelle Dockery as Eliza.

Although a tall order following the likes of Julia Roberts and Audrey Hepburn, Dockery is a remarkable new talent and she makes the role her own.

In the second half, as Higgins and Doolittle grow close, the obtuse, grating nature of Pigott-Smith's character is spot on.

It is at that point you realise he is meant to be annoying, and instead of it being the fly in the ointment it only highlights Piggott-Smiths' formidable strengths which compliment a first-rate cast.

An ardent socialist, nearly all of Shaw's writings deal sternly with prevailing social problems - most keenly the exploitation of the working class - but are laced with a vein of comedy to make their stark themes more appealing.

This production is very funny - so much so it has the air of light entertainment.

After a string of weighty productions at the Old Vic it is a charming and uplifting version of the play which can be hailed a tremendous success.

Rating 4/5

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