"I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a
Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion
Pygmalion was, in Greek legend, the misogynist King of Cyprus who fell in
love with a beautiful ivory statue, Galatea. Taking pity on him the goddess
Aphrodite blew breath into the statue and made it come alive as a beautiful
woman. Pygmalion then married his own creation which George Bernard Shaw insisted
did not occur, in his play, between the creator, Professor Henry Higgins and
his creation of a lady from a cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle.
Of course, Shaw's Pygmalion is today best known in its more palatable,
politically correct adaptation as My Fair Lady with Eliza indeed marrying
Higgins. Incidentally, Shaw's play was filmed in 1938 (gaining Halliwell's 4-star
approval!) starring Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza.
Halliwell remarks: "Perfectly splendid Shavian comedy of bad manners,
extremely well filmed and containing memorable lines and performances."
Here then is the original play with Higgins a crusty old bachelor, tactless,
with no feelings, ruthlessly exploiting Eliza to win his bet with a more sympathetic
Colonel Pickering to turn the flower girl into a Duchess, to make her 'speak
proper'. The balls, garden parties and race events on-screen and stage in My
Fair Lady do not exist or are off-stage in this Pygmalion. Only in the hilarious
tea party scene at Higgins's mother's home in the company of the Eynsford Hills,
do we have the opportunity of hearing Eliza's progress as she charms Freddy
and Clara with the 'new small talk' : "Gin was mother's milk to her"and
"Walk!"Not bloody likely!" And the play ends with Eliza thoroughly
disgusted with Higgins for ignoring her part in his triumph. She throws a tantrum
and storms off to marry Freddy Eynsford Hill.
Anton Lesser makes a cantankerous Higgins, Lucy Whybrow a lusty, feisty Eliza
although her prolonged oughwwws tend to be very much over the top in the early
scenes when Higgins brushes against her Cockney brogue. An unusually subdued
Geoffrey Palmer is a sympathetic Colonel Pickering. Hannah Gordon is suitably
disapproving and ironic as Henry Higgins long-suffering mother.
After attempts to give the play a happy ending with Eliza and Henry Higgins
joined together, Shaw remonstrated by adding the Epilogue that is also appended
here as CD3. Rather tediously, it has to be said, it relates what happens to
the characters after Eliza marries Freddy and how they survive and relate to
each other. As John Tydeman remarks in his perceptive booklet notes, the 'made-over'
Eliza is really nothing but "a doll who speaks beautifully, knows how to
move and to wear fine clothes". Shaw was in the business of down-to-earth
moralising and social observation - he realised she had much more to learn.