The last time My Fair Lady was in the West End, I would have been 8 years old and probably curled up on a sofa with my family watching Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison on a boxy noughties TV. I loved the film as a child but haven’t seen it in a long time so I couldn’t really remember what to expect as I walked towards the impressive facade of the London Coliseum.
The Coliseum is a fitting venue for such a grand production, filled with opulent costumes and old-school London townhouse sets. With a capacity of nearly 2,500, the West End’s largest theatre was teeming with excited (and some recognisable) faces, and its turn-of-the-century design makes you feel like you might be going to a night out at the theatre alongside Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, rather than getting ready to watch their story unfold on stage.
Because Dr Higgins and Colonel Pickering take the first musical number, we don’t hear Eliza sing until the iconic ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’, at which point it becomes clear why Amara Okereke – who won the Stage Debut Award for her performance as Cosette in Les Misérables – has been labelled a rising star by most who have seen her. Her voice is as strong as it is delicate, mirroring her performance as Eliza who is tough and vulnerable all at once.
Harry Haden-Paton’s Dr Higgins was chaotic and funny, bringing a mad professor energy to songs like ‘I’m An Ordinary Man’ and ‘A Hymn To Him’. His mother was played by stage royalty Dame Vanessa Redgrave, who relished every sharp line she delivered and received a round of applause almost every time she left the stage.
The direction of Freddie as a bit of a posh buffoon rather than a suave society gentlemen was played perfectly buy Sharif Afifi, bringing new humour to a relatively straight character. The dorkish giggles mixed into his musical numbers put a whole new spin into his melodramatic love songs which fit perfectly into the story.
I had forgotten quite how many of the songs in My Fair Lady are instantly recognisable, and hearing numbers like ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, ‘On The Street Where You Live’ and ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’ performed live with a full Orchestra was incredible. The latter of which is gifted with an extended pre-wedding drinking and dancing sequence with Stephen K Amos at the helm as Alfred P Doolittle, having a whale of a time.
With an intricate and beautiful set, extravagant costumes and a talented cast, this production was always going to be a winner. But for me, the thing that truly made it was just how much heart was in it. It’s a warm production full of characters that are all charming in their own ways, and you feel as though you’re watching a cast that are having so much fun with a much-loved classic.
Definitely catch it if you can, there’s nothing quite like the spectacle of a classic, full-scale musical done perfectly.