Skip to main content

25th March 2023

Review: My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady, which bows out at Palace Theatre Manchester, attempts to ‘correct’ the sexism in a sumptuous delight
Review: My Fair Lady
Heather Jackson, Charlotte Kennedy, Michael D. Xavier, and the companyPhoto: Marc Brenner

My Fair Lady has finally arrived in Manchester, and it is magnificently loverly! From the spectacular gowns, to a witty and elegant cast, filled with talented singers, actors, and dancers alike, the show is sure to amaze.

Previous to my viewing of the show, I had only heard a few segments of some of the most popular classic tunes, like ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’. Never had I read George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, heard the renditions by Julie Andrews, or seen the 1964 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn.

I went in completely blind, hoping that the class and gender tropes would not feel too outdated and distasteful to a modern day audience. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the humour surrounding class and pronunciation still held intact, causing myself and the audience to laugh at witty line deliveries and lighthearted entertainment.

Michael D. Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy, and John Middleton. Photo: Marc Brenner

Whilst I cannot speak for the differences in acting skills etc., I can safely say that Charlotte Kennedy’s singing performance beautifully rivalled the gorgeous voice of Julie Andrews and surpassed that of Hepburn’s ghost singer Marni Nixon. Her solos stole the show with flying vocals that soared like a song-bird, and at times even blew me away with the sheer power, emotion and range behind her singing. Even a small technical difficulty on set was not enough to sway her confident performance as the slowly empowered and fierce Eliza.

For those who haven’t seen previous adaptations, My Fair Lady follows the story of London-based flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Charlotte Kennedy), as she searches for a new life among the wealthy elite thanks to a bet made between the callous phonetic professor Henry Higgins (Michael D. Xavier) and the caring Colonel Pickering (John Middleton). It is a story about class and gender division that truly capitulates lifestyle differences in the early 1900s, using well-performed accents to highlight this.

Rather than taking these classist remarks too seriously, actors delivered lines and puns with a sense of joviality and irony, seeming to mock the absurdity of ‘lower’ class pronunciation yet balancing this with the absurd rigidity of higher-class gatherings and formal events like the Ascot, which poor Eliza must bumble her way through in order to pass as upper class.

The objectification of women still remains in the play, especially when Eliza parallels how making herself appear rich had made her unfit “to sell anything else” aside from her hand in marriage. However, even moments that may have proven incredibly sexist were superbly delivered, despite being the same lines from the original script, whether it be the overly performative facial expressions, the exasperated pauses between verses, or the sarcastic jabs at the fussy nature of women in ‘Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like A Man?’ and other moments of the show where she is referred to as a dirty “cabbage” or “baggage”.

Heather Jackson, Charlotte Kennedy, Michael D. Xavier, and the company. Photo: Marc Brenner

Whilst comments were still rude, for instance, “She’s so deliciously low. So horribly dirty”, as Henry notes the challenging nature of Eliza’s lower-class mannerisms, they felt less a snooty attack on women or class and more a comedic reflection on the era, the snobbery of upper-classes, and a strongly opinionated yet soft-centred man, who clearly couldn’t comprehend the opposite sex or how to treat a lady as even his amazingly “you go girl” type mother (Heather Jackson) comedically suggests.

This is also reflected in the jibes at the lack of men “of good character where women are concerned” and the egotistical ‘You Did It’ that ignores all of Eliza’s accomplishments and commends Henry’s.

Although some of the dialogue can seem a little offensive or outdated, I felt that their performances overshadowed this and that Eliza’s strength and fierceness were the main takeaways of the plot despite the myriad of objectifying and misogynist characters.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Between these themes were serious moments of tension as Eliza works through challenges, heartfelt friendships, awkward parent-child dynamics, and an amazing segment as Mr Doolittle (EastEnders‘ Adam Woodyatt) gets ready for Church surrounded by men and women in dresses, boozers, and featuring a parody of a funeral procession as he is pulled away casket-like to a wedding that will put an end to his life about the town.

Another amazing segment between the great performances of the main three (Xavier, Kennedy, and Middleton) was the genuinity of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Tom Liggins) as he falls head over heels for Eliza and her funny mannerisms and occasional swearing. His performance brought a smile to my face as I felt the sincerity and passion he felt for Eliza in the perfectly sung ‘On the Street Where You Live’, even beating his movie counterpart Jeremy Brett in his ability to sing with such pure emotions. Indeed, he even made me feel a little bad for the character as he was often seen as an idiotic or puppy-like man whose love was never taken seriously, even though it was a little performative.

The set was amazing, with a stunning two-level office/living room area with windows, furnishing, stairs, working doors and more spinning to reveal a bathroom, an area near the front door, and a small cranny in the street outside the house, giving the place glorious dimension and detail.

Other sets were usually less extravagant but included an enterable pub and London backdrop, a Covent Gardens set with columns and fences, and a ballroom set with fancy peacock-decorated bars, stairs and chandeliers. It was also interesting to note the way that several of the high-class gatherings were portrayed in blue or purple lighting that suggested a certain prestige, whereas the Higgins household remained a neutral yellow or orange, and the poorer areas of London were often a muddier brown, smoky or obscured colour palette, furthering the sense of class divisions subconsciously.

Singing in the impoverished areas of London was also a more communal feeling or had clashing lines or flowing harmonies and dance that matched the bustling feel of London, unlike the delicate staccato rhythms, rigid movements and black and white pompous costumes of ‘Ascot Gavotte’. Speaking of the costumes, boy were they well-made! The long, flowy dresses, blazers, nightwear, oversized feather hats, sequins, gloves, embroidery and parasols; all were treated with the upmost care and attention to detail.

The company. Photo: Marc Brenner

The only thing I felt a little disheartened about was the abruptness of the ending, which mirrors the original play’s ending, rather than the musical’s ending. Whilst I don’t think this can be avoided without changing Eliza’s empowering actions at the end, I just felt a little shocked at the lack of dialogue that occurs in the last scene of the play (although this isn’t really a criticism I can hold against the play, more of an observation as a first time viewer of the tale I suppose).

However, I was amazed to see how many dimensions Xavier was able to give Higgins by the end, and how well Kennedy breathed feminine fortitude and emotion into the heart of Eliza. But with an outstanding star-studded cast, every performer shone with moments of comedy, elegance, singing, and more, creating a unique spin on the classic, despite most of the material remaining largely the same.

The play received a standing ovation and was met with lots of laughter and audience participation as the crowd clapped along to many of the more light-hearted songs.

Whether you want to rewatch the classic film in stage form, be cordially invited to a night of loverly singing and witty entertainment, or to simply have a loverly night out with the family, this show is the perfect watch, and I would highly recommend attending the show before its too late.


My Fair Lady runs at Palace Theatre Manchester until April 1 – the final stop of its UK tour.

More Coverage

Review: Once on This Island

Once on This Island is an interesting and intelligent racial reimagining of The Little Mermaid – with gorgeous costumes and majestic lighting but a disappointing set (or lack thereof)

Review: La Clique

The Mancunion attended La Clique’s exclusive launch party to celebrate its Northern premiere – and we were absolutely blown away

Review: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Daniel Fish’s radical reimagining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is ambitious, intelligent, and (intentionally) unenjoyable

Live review: Samantha Barks at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Musical theatre icon Samantha Barks performed a superb solo concert at Theatre Royal Drury Lane – where she usually plays Elsa in Frozen