This steampunk re-imagining of George Bernard Shaw’s classic play opened last night at the New Theatre to an almost sold out audience. Lovers of theatre and the steam-punk movement alike attended. The opening images, as we come into the theatre, were rather ambient and telling. Pattering rain and the smell of metal were noticed as I found my seat. Performers in ragged costumes adorning cogs and metal fixtures were interacting with audience members and already introducing us to London, England. When the lights went down, our attention was already theirs.
Performances were well rehearsed and structured. The play ran along like a well oiled machine and the cast were attentive to their blocking, meaning the action was cohesive and naturalistic. Emma Wright as the iconic Eliza Doolittle was endearing and had a commanding, bright presence on stage, particularly in the first act. Shan-Ree Tan as Pickering and Steve Corner as Higgins both embodied that strong, confident masculinity of their guy’s-guy characters. Corner in particular was continually hitting his words in that comedic sweet spot that often made the audience laugh. The entire cast was particularly strong in their voices and accents, which is a crucial element of this particular play.
Pygmalion remained entirely true to the original script but made some bold alterations to the imagined world in its design. The costumes and set were recognizably inspired by the steampunk aesthetic and some of the gowns worn were particularly stunning. Dramaturgically speaking, I couldn’t help but notice disunion between the design and the content of the play. The choice to make everything steampunk often confused the world that it was set in. They talked and acted like early 20th Century English people, but dressed rather like it was the 19th Century. An aesthetic that is so utilitarian and mechanical felt unusual adorned by characters that were aristocratic and disconnected from manual labour. They spoke often of diamonds but in their place they wore gears and cogs.
This production is an interesting watch for fans of the play, of which I know many, and fans of the steampunk aesthetic. It is a brave choice to bring these two pillars together and was refreshing to eyes tired of the familiar images that come with a play this old and famous. While I can’t say that the fusion was so solid, it was certainly engaging.
Pygmalion is on at the New Theatre until 25 May, for tickets see: https://newtheatre.org.au/pygmalion/
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Featuring: Tiffany Hoy, Tricia Youlden, Robert Snars, Emma Wright, Shan-Ree Tan, Steve Corner, Natasha McDonald, Lisa Kelly, Colleen Cook, Emilia Kriketos, Sean Taylor and Vitas Varnas.