Patsy Ferran as Eliza and
Bertie Carvel as Higgins
Pygmalion at The Old Vic Theatre
Photo by Manuel Harlan
068 – Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw
Pygmalion is arguably George Bernard Shaw’s most famous play, partly of course because it spawned the even-more famous musical and film My Fair Lady. So many will be familiar with the story of the flower-girl, Eliza Doolittle, whom the phonetics professor Henry Higgins tutors to replace her spirited Cockney speech and character with the received pronunciation and deportment worthy of the English drawing-room. The enduring popularity of Pygmalion can be attributed to the romantic arc of its central story, and to the fact that it offers two iconic parts in the characters of Eliza and Higgins.
As we record this episode, the improbable couple are currently being played in a new production at The Old Vic theatre in London by two of our most respected stage actors, Patsy Ferran and Bertie Carvel. Shaw’s own reaction to his play’s popularity was typically contrary and immodest: “There must be something radically wrong with the play if it pleases everybody, but at the moment I cannot find what it is.”
Well judging by its continuing popularity, there can’t be much wrong with this play, but to help me assess Shaw’s parable of social mobility I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast our go-to Shaw expert, Ivan Wise. I was fortunate enough to talk to Ivan about the first Shaw play that we covered on the podcast, Arms and the Man, in episode 57.
Check out our review of the Old Vic production of Pygmalion here: The Play Review – Pygmalion
Ivan Wise is the editor of The Shavian, the journal of the Shaw Society, a post he returned to in 2023, having previously edited the journal for five years from 2005 to 2010. He has lectured on Shaw at the Carlow Festival in Ireland, the Shaw Festival in Canada and at Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire, and has written about Shaw for the Times Literary and Higher Education Supplements. He has also been an expert witness on Shaw on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives.
Ivan also presents the podcast Better Known, which asks guests to nominate six things that they love that they think should be better known.
Ivan recommended Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill.
The Footnotes to our episode on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion include an intriguing fact about a special guest at the premiere of the play, more observations on the ending of the play and what happened afterwards to Eliza, and a tribute to the genius of Alfred Doolittle.
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