Purple Play Review: Pygmalion (Still Showing!)

Psi Productions presents George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ yesterday, today and tomorrow at 6:30, Alhamra Cultural Complex (Mall Road), Hall One, directed by Umer Hameed. I went to see today’s performance and came back pleasantly surprised and very entertained.
The script was of course flawless, but Salman Naseer as Professor Henry Higgins did full justice to it. A delight to watch, Naseer has invested his talent in several theatrical productions in Lahore over the years and is someone to keep an eye on in future productions. Supported by an equally competent Syed Usman Javaid as the kindly Colonel Pickering, the two male leads shared wonderful chemistry onstage. Their accents were spot on, their diction clear without being wooden (as most actors here are wont to be) and their comic timing was impeccable. Eliza Doolittle, played by Hurmat-ul Ain, was one character I couldn’t quite decide what to think of. While ul-Ain shows promise- her gestures, expressions and comic sense were very natural and engaging, but as Eliza Doolittle her accents were of supreme importance and they failed to satisfy. Ul Ain managed a wholly unconvincing cockney- Audrey Hepburn’s most famous renditions of Doolittle’s ‘I’m a good girl, I am!’ and ‘Ga’arn!’ were completely mangled- and an even more disappointing upper-crust British accent. Besides that, she did succeed in engaging the audience’s attention and support, evident in all the clapping and cheering and laughs :) One person who managed brilliantly as far as accent and acting goes is Saad Asfandyar, the Renaissance man of the cast, playing a bystander (very reminiscent of Doolittle Senior), Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce and the host of Eliza’s crucial ball. He was an absolute treat, and his portrayal of the stern housekeeper was priceless- perfectly balanced between humor and plausibility (being a man playing a woman:P). Another unexpected surprise was Chinky Kazim, the producer and Higgins’ mother. Witty and wry, her version of Higgins’ sardonic mother was another sparkle in the cast’s constellation.
The sets struck a good balance between detail and simplicity (although why the stage-hands were dressed in white beats me), the costumes were very well done- Eliza’s costumes closely resembled Hepburn’s from My Fair Lady which I thought was a sweet detail- and the snazzy little dance routine by Naseer and ul-Ain did not go unnoticed. While the play is touted as a musical, there is precious little musical quality to the production- the live band was an innovative touch, but between ul-Ain’s off-key, shrill warbling and Asif Kanji’s painfully flat, awkward Freddy Eynsford-Hill doing a semi-drunken stagger to a fuzzily recorded song, methinks ‘a musical’ was best left off the poster.
All in all, ‘Pygmalion’ was an engaging, entertaining, charming effort despite a loud, confused opening scene and the bloops I just mentioned- it had the audience rooting for Eliza, laughing with Pickering and sympathizing with Higgins despite everyone knowing what happens to the couple. I even heard people singing along to the songs, and when Higgins suceeds in doing you-know-what, I heard a delighted ‘yay!’ from the front rows :) The last performance is on Sunday the eighteenth; if you’re free, do go and watch it. An evening well-spent!

Purple Star Rating (of five): ****

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