The quintessential ladette-to-lady story, My Fair Lady, is back on stage in a glorious, truly loverly revival, and making its’ way to Birmingham Hippodrome next month.
I had the privilege of accompanying the Birmingham Hippodrome team to Bristol to attend a preview ahead of it’s run in Birmingham. I sat down with Charlotte Kennedy who plays the lead role, Eliza Doolittle, and beloved soprano superstar, Leslie Garrett, who takes on the role of strait-laced housekeeper, Mrs Pearce.
Directed by Bartlett Sher, this award-winning revival of My Fair Lady premiered on Broadway in 2018 before making it’s way home to London. The production is currently in Bristol and will then travel to Birmingham before bowing out in Manchester. Espousing a female-centric account from the original play, Pygmalion, by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the show promises to showcase the classic story with an air of strong-female vigour.
From playing Cosette in Les Mis, Charlotte Kennedy truly dons the ‘common guttersnipe’ in the character’s infancy and takes the audience on a spectacular journey. In Eliza’s prematurity, the coos of ows and garns had the audience in hysterics. Charlotte bought forward the true evolution of Eliza, which I found absent in the film, with more comical escapades of a common fair lady.
Eastenders Favourite, Adam Woodyatt stars and is a true fit for the stage, holding a note and with fabulous comic timing. ‘Get me to the church on time’ is a true showstopper that doesn’t disappoint.
The set and costumes are an absolute triumph for a touring show and truly transport you to the old smoke back in 1912. The Higgins household is a rotating set that shows many a nook and cranny and takes ‘Just you Wait’ to a whole other level, the last time I saw a set similar to this was Sweeney Todd – this won by a landslide. My Fair Lady is an absolute gift of a revival.
Sitting down with the ladies, I mentioned to Lesley Garrett that the last time I saw her grace the stage was opposite Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music, to which she replied, “really, you must have still been at school, my love!”. After promoting the positive effects of botulinum toxin, we got down to business.
It’s a timeless classic adored by many, but what is it you love about My Fair Lady?
Charlotte Kennedy: It’s such an iconic role and for a woman to have a part that drives the show in such a way, I think is so important. There’s such a transformation with Eliza and it’s a gift to play her and to be part of such a journey.
Leslie Garrett: Working with Charl! As a senior member of the profession, it’s amazing to see the wealth and depth of the young talent in this amazing tour, chief of which, is Charl.
We’re so lucky to have such a fantastic cast, we’re all one team. I love the way Bartlett Sher has gone back to the original Pygmalion story, he’s got rid of the fluffier content we’ve come to know through the film. He’s bought to life what Bernard Shaw wanted it to be, strong women; Bernard Shaw was a feminist ahead of his time and a big supporter of the suffragette movement. The piece pivots on the strengths of women from Eliza, Mrs Peirce to Mrs Higgins which is fantastic to see.
What can we expect from the revival?
CK: They’ve taken bits from the film, the original Pygmalion story, and the stage show in the 50s; it follows the same traditional path. It was very ahead of its time back then and people ask me today, ‘is the story still relevant?’ And it is more than ever!
LG: They’ve introduced more modern aspects, there’s cross-dressing and nods towards today’s society throughout. Of course, it was happening back then but wasn’t spoken about.
Eliza and Mrs Pearce are both feisty characters, what do you love most about playing these roles?
LG: I love the way Eliza and I are very similar and spark off each other to start. Mrs Pearce disapproves of this whirlwind of a woman coming into her well-organised household and dominating things. However, like everyone else in the piece, she softens and falls in love with Eliza and helps her to become the woman that she becomes. I love that trajectory.
CK: She really knows who she is and goes through a massive change, however, she’s the one in the drivers seat, she knows what she wants and wants to better her life. We talk about Eliza’s transition but look at Higgins, her emotional vulnerability allows him to open up as a person. Her real knowing of herself, she’s incredibly brave.
My particular favourite song, ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly?’, is all about comforts. When touring, what are your creature comforts?
CK: I love hot drinks. I don’t do well with being cold so being warm is important. I’m a real people person and love people around me – and chocolate, of course.
LG: Having music is vital, I’ve struggled with the fact Mrs Pearce has very little to sing, so I’ve been doing concerts as we’ve been touring to stop myself from going mad. I’ve been doing free recitals in bars. I haven’t had chance in Bristol as we’re only here for ten days but maybe in Birmingham …
Also, my husband comes with me when he can but he’s a doctor so it can be tricky. I’m very family centric and the company becomes your family, we’re all so supportive of one another, on stage and off.
My Fair Lady is the ultimate ladette to lady story, about being poised, dignified, with an air of grace… What is your most undignified moment?
(Charlotte did confide a hilarious tale but I’m protecting her privacy.)
LG: On this show in Bradford, the shower scene. My skirt came undone, and it fell off in front of the public on the first night! I had knickers on, pop socks and a corset, I thought I was going to die. The company never let me forget it. For weeks I was asked If had my skirt on…
From Bristol you’re onto Birmingham, our hometown. What do you love about the city?
CK: My family are from Shirley, and I went to college in Stratford-Upon-Avon. There’s great shopping – Bullring, Selfridges. For me, it’s family because they’re based there, and when I was at college, we used to go to the Hippodrome and I adored it.
I love the accent! It’s really hard to master it, you only have to watch Peaky Blinders!
LG: I love the diversity, the different cultures which means you get a diversified audience. I love Symphony Hall, it’s my favourite hall in the country. I love the music making possibilities that are there and the fact that the community support that. I love the accent too, speaking of accents, Mrs Pearce was supposed to be in Scottish and I practised it all summer and when we got to the states, they asked to hear my Yorkshire accent and said we’ve got to use it!