Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Maiden Theatre presents their deconstruction of Pygmalion. It’s a twisted tale using rhyme, classic imagery, song, dance and moments of utter madness. The piece tries to keep track of the slippery Eliza in a modern world, trapped in a dead end life with no prince charming or fairytale ending to make it all go right
The all female cast meet the audience as they enter, they are corseted angels with dirty faces and bare feet. They try to sell withered flowers to the unsuspecting audience and proclaim dismay when their efforts are not rewarded. They begin their tale, playfully drawing us into the story, five hypnotic sirens on a rocky shore. The maidens twist and turn, throwing the rhyming narrative to each other and eventually Eliza is realised. It’s all of them, they are all her. They add the sub plot that this is also about the murder of the English tongue. She is living in a dingy high rise flat and is unhappy with her lot. She plans to leave and travel abroad- out of London- to make her fortune. She is hapless and loses all her possessions, but is saved by the police. She then learns to speak properly, but is clearly driven mad by how vacuous her new life really is, and hankers after her old life. Yes it’s that bizarre.
To tell this story, the cast leap around the stage; a mass of interlocking limbs, a medusa of arms and legs. They hiss, cajole and tantrum and then, when you least expect it, burst into song. They’re funny with it too, not afraid to stare straight into your eyes until one of them reminds the other that they have a sad story to tell. The story bounces between 19th and 21st Century references, so you can expect Eliza to have a car and hanker after a state of the art dishwasher. The precisely performed master class in cockney rhyming slang is this cast at its best, and they shine.
You can feel the strength and commitment from the cast: they are all strong players with stage presence. They have super singing voices and their choruses often end in comic harmonised caterwauling. The imagery the women create and statues they get into are fabulous. They are, when still, like paintings. Their timing is spot on and the cues are tight.
Yet the whole thing is demented. The shtick with the audience is far too long before they settle down to properly start the tale. There is constant background music which becomes overwhelming. Ironically it’s the ideal music for the moment but again too long. For me there is an absence of light and dark. There are lots of good ideas but it lacks that discerning eye to know when it’s clear the point has been made. I’m not sure they achieved what they set out to do, which was to deliver a tale of horror, deceit and cold bloodied murder of the English tongue, but it’s a small audience that are in on the day I am there and they are roaring with laughter. This is an odd piece with potential for lots of humorous moments – I think if they tightened it up more, they’d get even more and bigger laughs.