Tonight we watched the IODS production of ‘My Fair Lady’ at the Ipswich Regent, sitting in some of our new favourite seats in the house. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing some incredible shows here over the last few years, so it’s always lovely to be back. What was equally lovely, though, was seeing some of the familiar members of IODS returning to the stage for a completely different show. IODS is another amateur group where we have no relation to anyone involved, we just really admire the quality of their productions.
The set for the show (designed by Andrew Johns) was absolutely beautiful- when the curtains opened, I actually gasped. Not only was it minimalistic, but it was also looked very professional, something which is very hard to achieve with a simple set. Behind centre stage, the band were on raised platforms which split to make room for a staircase/walkway which was used throughout the production. Furniture, props and lampposts were promptly wheeled on and off stage by the stage crew.
The lighting design wasn’t particularly inspiring (although Dan Scarlett matched the colours to the mood of the scene very well), but the nature of the show didn’t really lend itself to dramatic lighting anyway. We were only a few rows from the stage so sound definitely wasn’t an issue for us; the audio (by Simon Deacon) was clean and crisp, perhaps helped by the fact that only a small portion of the cast were mic’d.
The show’s plot was simple and, for the most part, tasteful. The plot synopsis, from MTI Europe, is as follows:
Eliza Doolittle is a young flower seller with an unmistakable Cockney accent which keeps her in the lower rungs of Edwardian society. When Professor Henry Higgins tries to teach her how to speak like a proper lady, an unlikely friendship begins to flourish.
While I really enjoyed the book and the pace of the show, I had a bit of an issue with Eliza’s character towards the end of the play. I won’t spoil anything in case you choose to watch it in the future, but her choice to compromise her newfound sense of empowerment didn’t sit very well with me (or the lady next to me, actually!).
The soundtrack (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe) was very solid. Half a dozen of the songs from the soundtrack (including ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’) were huge hits and, admittedly, very difficult ones to perform at that, but IODS and the band (directed by Mike Wren) did justice to every number. I wouldn’t say there was a single song in the show I didn’t enjoy, which is always an achievement as I’m very picky when it comes to music!
As for the cast, I don’t believe that anyone on the stage was anything less than entirely professional, and the casting for every character was spot on. From the misogynistic-yet-horribly-charming Henry Higgins (Martin Leigh) to the eccentric Zoltan Kaparthy (Graham Holland), the principals were all brilliantly suited to their roles and were supported by an equally brilliant ensemble. I’d just like to talk briefly about Laura Mayhew (who played Eliza Doolittle).
As characters go, Eliza is a very challenging one to play. Constantly torn between her own identity and the one being shaped for her, Eliza has a Jekyll-and-Hyde-style personality distinction (hopefully you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the show) which should be exceptionally difficult to portray well, but Mayhew’s performance was effortless. Honestly amazing. Vocally she was brilliant, but her characterisation was really a highlight of the show.
We managed to catch the show on the last night so you won’t have the chance to catch this specific production, but I’m planning to return for the company’s summer 2019 production of ‘The Addams Family’ and – if you’re in search of a professional-standard amateur production – maybe you should give it a chance too.