by Nina Linton
Reviving old classics is nothing new for The Montgomery Theatre but in their recent offering, Pygmalion, the company sets the bar high with outstanding cast performances in a comical collision of socioeconomic classes.
Returning this year in their newly acquired North Rustico venue, the Montgomery Theatre players, under artistic director Duncan McIntosh, with previous positions including Ontario’s Shaw Festival and The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, take to the stage to recreate George Bernard Shaw’s work, in a fresh and modern production that features both local and imported talent.
As with previous Montgomery Theatre productions Pygmalion keeps to the theatre’s tradition of showcasing theatrical pieces that originated in the time of Island literary legend Lucy Maud Montgomery.
As witty and delightful today as it was at the time of its inception nearly a century ago, this play still provokes reflection on the discrepancies that exist between the low, middle and upper classes.
Set in England this tale centers around common Cockney flower peddler, Eliza Doolittle. A product of her East London environment, Eliza is marred by illiteracy, poor manners and her rough accent when she is whisked out of the gutter by an academic who promises to turn her into a refined lady who could pass for a Duchess. With the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering the transformation takes place with hilarity punctuating the progression, however some poignant moments follow as Doolittle begins to expect more from life after her heightened reality and Professor Higgins remains reluctant to relinquish his living linguistic project.
Stratford native Rebecca Parent not only stars but shines as Eliza Doolittle in this production, playing the strident yet fragile flower girl aiming to elevate herself through the rigid social standings of the time. Parent authentically carries off her character’s duplicity well, highlighting the strong willed, assertive yet charming nature of the girl.
In the role of Henry Higgins, Manitoba’s Omar Khan embodies the phonetics-obsessed professor. Containing himself within the confines of the character, Khan believably portrays the robust, self-assured bachelor who is overly enthusiastic about science but lacks any inkling of interpersonal skills adding drama to the dialogue.
An audience favourite is sure to be actress Tanja Jacobs who wears, literally, many hats during the course of the production, sometimes shifting sexes within a scene playing such characters as Mr. Alfred Doolittle, Mrs. Pearce, and Mrs. Higgins among others.
Other noteworthy performances were given by Michael Iliadis, Shannon Taylor, and Rob Maclean who juggled several roles throughout the production.
With its exposed ceiling beams, thrust stage and staggered ground level seating creating an intimate setting, the former Stella Maris Hall, the new Montgomery Theatre location, makes a cozy home for this production. However when the seating layout in the small space is combined with actor’s stage positions certain seats’ views are obstructed for periods throughout the production.
Simplistic in nature, the production of Pygmalion has few sound effects and even fewer props as it unfolds on an ebony stage complete with black backdrop, consciously chosen by the director who has clearly focused on delivering the story through text and not the stage décor.
The Montgomery Theatre’s rendition of Pygmalion is a family-friendly presentation, an enduring class-conscious spectacle with both dramatic notes and loads of laughs that is sure to leave audience members smitten.