18 February 2020

In February 2020 the YPH theatre at St Helen’s was transformed for the joint Senior Musical Production of My Fair Lady. This was Kyia Grandi’s first production as director at St Helen’s, with Helena Rakowski as Musical Director, and Rachel Vallance as choreographer. My Fair Lady involved 42 students on stage, 18 students backstage, and a further 18 in the orchestra. The musical was received with much excitement across both St Helen’s and Abingdon schools and played to full house audiences on all nights. The dedication and talent of the ensemble made this production a huge success and all performers should be commended for their accomplished work.

Outstanding performances were given by Millie (Year 11) who brought strength and charisma to the role of Eliza Doolittle, Kit Mannix who skilfully portrayed the tempestuous and domineering nature Henry Higgins and Matthew Buhler as the courteous Colonel Pickering. The three worked together to create a highly engaging central trio to the piece. Stand out performances were also given by Alice (Year 11) who used her excellent comic timing to create an engaging Mrs Higgins. Robin Collins as the lovestruck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Freya (Lower Sixth) as Mrs Pearce and Eddie Good as Alfie Doolittle, who, accompanied by his comedy cockney duo Harry and Jamie (Lower Sixth students Ruby and Zara), brought an uplifting energy to their comic performances.

Speaking about the production Ben Philips, Director of Drama at Abingdon School said, “St Helen’s and Abingdon School’s joint senior musical this year was a fantastic production of My Fair Lady. The cast and crew did a fabulous job of bringing the show to life with some marvellous singing and energetic acting. Congratulations to all involved!”

The production received this glowing review from a member of the audience:

St Helen and St Katharine and Abingdon School wowed audiences with an outstanding production of the musical My Fair Lady.

The 42-strong cast and 18-strong orchestra conveyed all the glamour and comedy of the Lerner and Loewe musical, itself based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, while also finding new depth and relevance to the piece.

Millie Hughes, playing Eliza Doolittle, lit up the stage with her stellar singing voice and assured sense of comedy. Hughes perfectly captured Eliza’s evolution from poor flower girl to society lady and her sense of isolation and disorientation along the way.

A powerhouse of talent, Hughes took on the play’s uncomfortable brick wall of misogyny and blasted a giant hole through the middle of it.

“The big question,” says director Kyia Grandi, “was always how to take the intrinsic misogyny and prejudice of the play and subvert it, and we also wanted to make the play credible for now.”

The charismatic Kit Mannix excelled as Henry Higgins, the ‘gentleman’ and phonetician who bets his new pal Colonel Pickering that he can make a ‘Duchess’ of Eliza in a matter of weeks. Mannix aced the demanding melodies of the musical while also revealing a fragility and vulnerability to Higgins that made his character both sympathetic and credible. Matthew Buhler gave a wonderful performance as Colonel Pickering bringing new laughter to the role.

Freya Bogdanovic as Mrs Pearce and Alice Thorley as Mrs Higgins were witty and convincing, bringing calm authority to their roles. Rabble-rouser Alfie Doolittle, played by Eddie Good and Freddy Eynsford-Hill, played by Robin Collins, both charmed with their singing and energy. The ensemble cast was superlative and a tour de force of voice and choreography.

Most significantly this school production succeeded in releasing Eliza from the play’s narrative of control. Even in her most vulnerable moments, Eliza never looked in danger of being dominated. By the end the audience was left with the distinct impression that she had roared through Henry Higgins’ life, taking what she needed, on her way to greater things.

Higgins should have seen it coming. As Eliza sang: “No, my reverberating friend, you are not the beginning and the end.”

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