Friday, 10 June 2011

My Fair Lady, Cadogan Hall

A one-off performance of Lerner & Loewe's highly-regarded musical My Fair Lady is a welcome lightning strike in a town which currently hosts a high profile run of Pygmalion. This performance was essentially a vehicle for the London Concert Choir, an amateur society for whom the venue, the Cadogan Hall, is a familiar haunt. The evening presented an opportunity for the choir to venture from their core diet of the choral repertoire and they'd clearly taken the chance to let their hair down - an extended stage suggested a rudimentary staging and a short titles video & appropriate stills projected above the choir alluded to the inescapable familiarity of George Cukor's 1964 film. In fact the whole evening had an atmosphere of parochial festival, with a local audience slipping easily into the spirit of the event.

However, showbiz doesn't survive on goodwill alone. A handful of professionals had come in to take the principal roles, classical singers who gamely took on the semi-staging by performing off-book. Sometimes this proved a stumbling block, although the rare dropped stitch was more to do with the disconnect between the performers and the conductor (Mark Forkgen) in front of whom they stood. The evening was carried by the blazing charisma of Arlene Rolph as Eliza, not only shuttling between two dialects but also two singing techniques to accomodate them. In the midst of this the time was found for no fewer than six costume changes, a bull fight and a mouthful of marbles. Opposite her Toby Stafford-Allen's Higgins, replete in pink Argyle ankle-socks, managed crisp annunciation with understated hauteur so that the latter outbursts had their proper dramatic weight. Peter Willcock, so capable in recent comic opera at the Royal Opera House, was a steadying presence as the ubiquitous if nondescript Pickering. The smaller roles are also the big musical numbers: James Geer was all easy charm for Freddy's On The Street Where You Live; as Alfred, Martin Lamb's gregarious With A Little Bit Of Luck was only bettered by downing a (real) bottle of beer in one during Get Me To The Church On Time.

Naturally though the true stars were drawn from the chorus. I didn't have a programme so I am unable to identify the excellent Mrs Higgins or the snarling barmaid, although the Mrs Pearce was readily identifiable as Independent writer Mary Ann Sieghart, whom I'm happy to report was confident and entertaining in the droll exchanges at Higgins' flat. Whatever any individual's involvement, the ensemble was permanently in the spirit of the piece, managing a number of discreet, corporate costume adjustments nicely - and, above all, singing with precision, projected text and good intonation and blend. Mark Forkgen made light work of the unwieldy stage arrangements, shepherding the basic orchestra through the clutch-heavy shifts in tempo and temperament with some style. Hardly a West End challenger but a great evening's fun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mrs Higgins was played by Mary Glanville and the barmaid was played by Jane Cameron.