My Fair Lady @ King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh theatrical institution Southern Light Opera Country return with their 122nd show, an adaptation of My Fair Lady

Review by Dominic Corr | 13 Mar 2019

It’s time to ram in an R and drop the H as Southern Light Opera Company – Edinburgh's oldest amateur operatic society – don their best for their production of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical, My Fair Lady, directed by Andy Johnston. Rivalled only by the pantomime as Edinburgh’s theatrical event of the year, at 122 years old the society's sense of camaraderie and adoration for the community and stage is clear to see. 

It takes a lot to stand apart from a role made famous by the likes of Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn, but Rebekah Lansley as Eliza Doolittle somehow does it. Lansley brings something to Eliza – perhaps it’s that radge yet endearing Scottish charm – but she carries herself playfully. Vocally, from the moment Lansley ‘ascends’ into a more prim and proper range her voice becomes by far the defining feature of the entire production, even if her Cockney does slip on occasion.

This isn’t to say the remaining cast are left behind. Bidding to stand toe-toe with Lansley is John Bruce playing Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetics scholar who believes in his skills so much that he takes a working-class Cockney girl and tranforms her into a woman who would fit into high society. Put simply, Higgins is an arse, and a complete one at that. His character is a lampooning of idealistic male gaze and misogyny, but Bruce manages to stage Higgins with enough character and wit that it works perfectly in his favour.

The balance between the two leads is crucial, and Bruce and Lansley capture that antagonistic feeling for one another in the way only a romance can do. There are some stumbles however; the overly-crowded stage creates a challenge for choreographer Louise Williamson who succeeds more often than not. Her direction of Get Me to The Church on Time is a highlight, although other numbers feel stilted or transition between scenes is awkward. 

Meanwhile, Keith Kilgore’s Alfred P. Doolittle has moves, timing and ability but his antagonistic role requires more venom. The same is similar for David Bartholomew’s Freddy – a tad too simpering, though this simply heightens Lansley’s command during Show Me.

My Fair Lady feels slightly updated, maintaining the heart of the original but with that Southern Light spark and continued effort to spotlight new stars. As usual, this is a production everyone can be proud of, not just those creating but audience as well.

My Fair Lady @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh, run ended