TONIGHT was always going to be something of a test. I have been a fan of this company for a few years now, and I have never seen anything by them that has not been of the highest standard, on every level. My Fair Lady is also a favourite of mine, and as well as playing Eliza’s father in 2005 I have seen it on the amateur and professional stage many times. How long would I have to wait to be reassured or disappointed, I wondered?
The wait was short, and even before the singing had started I was convinced that Pickering and Higgins, a delightful pairing of two experienced members of BODS, Huw Morgan and Steve Huggins respectively, really wanted to prove something to themselves, and to us, and that Madeleine Woolgar’s Eliza was every bit as good an actor as them. Huggins gave us mainly the classic Rex Harrison Higgins in the songs, which I suppose is what audiences expect, but it was also lovely to hear his singing voice, especially in I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face..
Woolgar is the most normal, most real, most believable Eliza I have seen, bringing a warmth and humanity to the role without being too whiny or needy. I completely believed in her, and her philosophy, all of which made even more sense when we met her father, Alfred Doolittle, played with great energy and gusto by Dave Key-Pugh, and bringing a similar pathos to his philosophical, lines, although I might have added some grey to his hair and beard to distinguish between Doolittle generations. As her suitor Freddy, Sean Bailey gave a sensitively naive portrayal of the role, and was evidently completely in love with Eliza even before he was On The Street Where You Live. Anna-Marie Manley and Julia Padfield were equally good as Henry Higgins housekeeper and mother respectively, perhaps helping us understand why Higgins remained a confirmed old bachelor. Lucas Porter made the most of his cameo as the Hungaran ex-pupil of Higgins, Zoltan Karpathy, stopping just short of caricature and bringing out the humour of the role.
The stage at Bath was filled to capacity at times, with new and inventive choreography, by Maisie Carter and Annette Wilshire, making use of every inch of it. This is a huge advantage that amateur companies have over professional ones, who cannot afford such a big cast. The Ascot scene is always something to look forward to, and BODS gave us a definitive performance of this, with crowd in Beatonesque monochrome, as well as some other famous set pieces, from A Little Bit of Luck to the dance at the Embassy Ball. Director Tristan Carter brings detail to life from every member of the cast – there is no weak member to be found, such is the talent on show, and the professional orchestra, under Peter Blackwood did the company proud, with some beautiful French Horn coming through during one number in particular.
This is a fantastic production of one of the best traditional musicals there is, and BODS, as always, give every single percent of their energy, talent and personality to it. As I have said before, I would travel a long way to see anything they take on, even material I would not usually like, so to see them take on a classic, and win, is a delight. If you ever see the Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society advertising a show, and if you like your musicals performed with attention to detail, quality and absolute entertainment, do not miss an opportunity to see them in action.