Thursday, 30 June 2011


A works outing last Sunday to Shaw's Corner in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire for an outdoor performance of George Bernard Shaw's play 'Pygmalion'. Particularly apt as Shaw's Corner used to be where the great man lived from 1906 until he donated it to The National Trust on his death in 1950. It's worth a visit if you're at all interested in Shaw - if only to see his revolving shed where he did most of his writing - but there's loads of artifacts and memorabilia lying about. It's pretty much as Shaw left it.
There can't be many people who are not familiar with 'Pygmalion', if only because of the musical 'My Fair Lady' which was based on it. Shaw himself nicked the idea from the Greeks; Pygmalion was the King of Cyrprus who made a statue of Aphrodite which he fell in love with and so he prayed to the goddess to bring it to life. She instructed him to kiss the statue and Hey Presto, Bob's yer uncle. He and the statue went on to have a son who was named Paphos. Thankfully, Shaw left all this rather weird and deviant behaviour out of his play and just stuck to the concept of transformimg something base into something fine and cultured. But through work and technical expertise rather than pagan mumbo jumbo.
I studied 'Pygmalion' in the Fourth Form at school (age 14/15) and was cast as Higgins by my English teacher who observed that I was an 'old cynic' just like Higgins. Harumph; is it any wonder I bear the psychological scars I do?
The performance took place on the patio of the house and the audience were placed on the lawn which slopes downwards from the house. We were invited to bring a picnic and our own chairs. No sound system was in use, so the actors had to project and use their skills to ensure we didn't miss any of the dialogue. Most of the actors managed this well enough, although some were better than others. The chap playing Colonel Pickering, however, didn't look as if he would manage to complete the performance - he was a bit ancient and doddery. But the central protagonists, Higgins and Eliza, did well and were convincing. Higgins was perhaps a little too rambunctious and voluble but that's OK. The fellow playing Alfred Doolittle stumbled occasionally over his lines but, again, he looked like he's probably close to retirement so I'll let him off. Nevertheless he delivered the 'undeserving poor' monologue well enough - this is a particular moment where Shaw slams home his Socialist views in a viscious satire of the Poor Laws. (The Reform Movement and the Progressive Liberals were campaigning for legislation to repeal the Poor Laws at the time Shaw was writing Pygmalion.)
Any road up, a jolly pleasant evening. Loads of our chums were there so we enjoyed a very sociable picnic as well as Shaw's erudite discourse on class, social mobility, poverty and prejudice.

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