Academic and actress partner for play

Laurie Todes as Eliza Doolittle and Richard Higgs as Professor Higgins in Pygmalion. Picture: Detlef Basel

A University of Cape Town lecturer from Mowbray and a professional actress from Claremont play the teacher and pupil respectively in Pygmalion, which starts at The Masque Theatre tomorrow.

Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, which has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

Sue Wilkes directs this one, based on the complex business of human relationships in a social world.

It tells the tale of Professor Higgins portrayed by Richard Higgs and whether he can transform Eliza Doolittle, played by Laurie Todes, from a cockney flower girl to be more ladylike with a “proper” English dialect.

Laurie, 24, from Claremont got to work closely with Richard, 45, from Mowbray in this play.

“It has been an utter treat to work with Richard. Before Pygmalion I had met him during a production we both acted in. It has been a fulfilling and rewarding journey in building the iconic dynamic that exists between these two special characters,” Laurie said.

Laurie says her character of Eliza Doolittle is not your typical female “starry-eyed” protagonist.

“She transforms from a sassy, smart-mouthed ‘flower-girl’ with a cockney accent, to a majestic ‘lady’ who can confidently engage with people of the ‘noble class’,” she said.

The dynamics of the two leads in the play ar unique, with Laurie, a professional actress who starred in Birdcage, the Open Door and William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors playing opposite Richard who does acting on the side.

Richard, who is a lecturer in digital curation and library studies at UCT, says his job in academia is not always an 8am to 5pm job, though he had the summer vacation to prepare for this role. While he believes he shares similarities, with his character in real life, he is much more caring of his students, he said.

“Higgins is a spoiled brat. He has lived a life of upper middle-class privilege and is accustomed to always having things his own way. He takes on the challenge of turning Eliza from a flower seller into a gentle lady out of professional curiosity without considering that she is actually a human being,” he said.

Richard enjoyed working with Laurie as they got used to each other’s style while approaching the role. “Now that we are both comfortable with the roles and each other, we have a lot of freedom to play with the subtle undercurrents of emotional tension that exist between the characters,” said Richard.

Richard has been involved in amateur drama since 2010 when some of his most memorable roles included, Salieri in Amadeus, the tortured psychiatrist Dysart in Equus and Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The play has eight supporting cast members, including Jane Cohen, 71, from Rondebosch, who plays the part of Mrs Eynsford Hill whose son Freddy, portrayed by Ryan Store, falls in love with Eliza Doolittle.

Jane is a retired nursing sister who has been involved in amateur theatre at The Masque since 1996, where she helped backstage and played in various supporting roles, even receiving a Cape Amateur Theatre Awards (CATA) for her role as the title character’s grandmother, Florence Boothroyd, in the play Billy Liar.

Jane says it is wonderful to be in a play with Richard again as she has previously worked with him on the play, The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.

Jane says her character is gentle but poor and is anxious that both her son and daughter, Clara, played by Sonika Gerber , should do well in Edwardian society.

“She is constantly being shocked by her daughter’s modern ways which she feels are very ‘unladylike,’ she said.

Pygmalion will be played from tomorrow at The Masque Theatre at 8pm, on Saturday March 9 it will have two shows at 2.30pm and 6.30pm, it will then continue next Thursday and Friday at 8pm and will have its final two shows on Saturday March 16 at 2.30pm and 6.30pm. Tickets can be booked via Computicket, email bookings@masquetheatre.co.za or call 021 788 1898.