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Pygmalion - After

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

George Bernard Shaw meets Phua Chu Kang.

But with none of the soul of either.

I have friends in this production. But I have decided that I need to be honest and compassionate with how I review this. As I am going to do from now on for any show I write about here. I have no wish to offend. However, I feel if I, as an audience member do not speak up about what I might not like, then I should just shut up and not say anything at all rather than bitch off the record.

I tried to go into this production with an open mind. However, I feel that when a writer chooses to rewrite or to base his play/musical on such a famous subject, it is going to be inevitable that comparisons are drawn. I will try and steer away from that as I don't feel it's fair to do so. But being human, I have "My Fair Lady" and the book "Pygmalion" in my mind.

This rewrite of a much beloved musical opened promisingly enough. The audience were greeted by the flower girls in the theatre itself. The costumes were pleasingly eccentric and added a new dimension to what is, arguably, one of the most famous plays/musicals in the world.

Michelle Quah is possessed of a beautiful voice and very good technique. On top of that, she is a fine performer. One who makes lemonade out of lemons. To a large extent, the music, while charitably passable, was at times, at odds with the tone and the lyrics of the entire show.

Harith and Indi. Fine performers. Fantastic comedians. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, lacking in chemistry. There was none of that casual bonhomie between Pickering and Higgins which made them such an unlikely pair. Instead, it was a stilted relationship. One which I, as an audience member, found hard to relate to.

The supporting cast supported with two notable standouts. Mrs Pearce (Sarah Shahrum) and Ms Eynsford-Hill (Elaine Pedley). Mrs Pearce was in this instance possessively exhibitionistic and sycophantic to the clueless Professor Higgins and Ms Eynsford-Hill, who was blessed with a voice only dogs and cheating husbands could hear, both did a refreshingly comic turn.

Besides Michelle and the chorus girls (who did a fine job) it was difficult to find anything to like about this version of George Bernard Shaw's play or for that matter, the musical.

The sets were well designed and the costumes bear another mention. The sound was, except for one or two glitches at the beginning, very good. The orchestration was workmanlike.

But here I must congratulate Llewelyn Marsh for the dual role he played. I know how tough it is to maintain a character throughout a show. But to do it while conducting as well is an achievement. I do hope that in the future, he will concentrate on one or the other because I feel it detracts from the best I know he can offer.

My greatest complaint however, was the wholesale venacularisation of this "Pygmalion." It was as if it went too far without going far enough. What immediately sprang to my notice was that the "manglish" used was of the variety that expats try and learn but come off sounding somewhat stilted. Which is comical in its own way. But absolutely annoying when you have to listen to it through half the play/musical. Insertion of Malay or Chinese words in various conversations which substituted directly for the meanings of the words came off sounding...odd.

The context, I can only suppose for artistic reasons, was not changed. So that the class war that is part of the original play felt strangely British but not quite. And Malaysian...but again, not quite. I don't feel that to change the language is sufficient to vernacularise a play. Like "Rent" which borrowed from "La Boheme" the context, needs to be revised.

All in all, it was a very brave effort. One which obviously took a lot of time and energy to put on. The performers are to be commended for their hard work. The polish of the production was evident. The performers themselves are seasoned professionals, and I believe, made the most of what they had to work with.

But I cannot in good conscience recommend that you view this. If you wish to support it as a means to further Malaysian theatre, then by all means, but please keep that in mind when you watch it. But if you want an afternoon or evening of enjoyment, then rent/buy the DVD with Audrey & Rex instead!

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