All I want is a great production of Pygmalion – George Bernard Shaw reviewed

The story of a “gorblimey” flower seller plucked from the streets of Covent Garden and transformed into a “laydee” by phonetics expert Henry Higgins who learns her to speak posh might seem outdated in an age that has embraced regional accents.

But its interrogation of class divisions still has traction.

Not only is Eliza Doolittle (Ferran) taught to speak correctly by Higgins (Carvel) but she is also given lessons in social etiquette by his companion Colonel Pickering (Michael Gould).

The experiment is the result of a wager between the two old scoundrels. Director Richard Jones’s major innovation is the style and speed of the delivery.

It is as fast and furious as a Road Runner cartoon, which necessitates the actors twisting, bending and rushing around like amphetamine-fuelled puppets.

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The unrelenting farce mode threatens GBS with GBH. Carvel, whose previous roles have included Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and an alarmingly convincing Donald Trump, plays Higgins like a cross between an overexcited child and manic maiden aunt.

And a phonetics expert would not mispronounce “pronunciation”.

Ferran starts as a traditional Eliza, squawking “I’m a good girl, I am” to distinguish herself from the streetwalkers in her vicinity, before transitioning to an elegant young woman with remarkable speed.

There are a handful of smart and funny set-pieces, notably the tea party at the house of Higgins’s mother –played with quiet assurance by Sylvestra Le Touzel – and one of the only “real” people on stage apart from the housekeeper Mrs Pearce (Penny Layden).

But the torrential pace gives us scant time to engage with the characters or care what happens to them.

Like Higgins himself – the Victor Frankenstein of social engineering – it is smart, blinkered and heartless.

● For tickets call 0344 871 7628.

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