City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Meine Faire Dame – ein Sprachlabor, EIF 2012, Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 16 August 2012

Meine Faire Dame - the language lab
Show details
Theater Basel
Running time: 
Christoph Marthaler (director), Anna Viebrock (set design), Sarah Schittek (costume design), Bendix Bethleffsen (musical director), HeidVoegelinLights (lighting design), Raphael Zehnder (video), Beat Frei and David Huggel (sound), Malte Ubenauf and Julei Pauker (dramaturgy), Sophie Zeuschner and Christine Steinhoff (assistant director)
Tora Augestad, Karl-Heinz Brandt, Carina Braunschmidt, Mihai Grigoriu, Graham F. Valentine, Micael von der Heide, Nikola Weisse, Bendix Bethleffsen and Mihai Grigoriu (musicians)

George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion premiered in London in 1914.  It was a satire on class and women’s position in society told through an experiment by  professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, who lays a bet that he can tutor someone from the lower orders, flower seller Eliza, and pass them off in society as a duchess.

The play has been adapted many times and is probably most famously known as the musical My Fair Lady, and the visually sumptuous film version, starring Audrey Hepburn.

This latest ‘loosely based’ version from Christoph Marthaler and Theater Basel is set in the ‘70s in a language lab: all soundproof walls, blond wood, a staircase on one side with a grand piano at the foot, a small organ at the other side of the stage played occasionally by Frankenstein’s monster. It is performed in English and German with surtitles and there is simultaneous action in different places throughout the performance.

A screen mirrors the pianist the on stage but his playing becomes out of sync which is quite funny, then there is an image of the Queen, presumably to represent enunciation, then there is an image of a Cézanne still life painting of fruit while real apples are being munched on stage during a religious meeting, pointing up the question of what is real and what is not, but this was interspersed with random images from a shopping channel whose significance passed me by.

The idea of a ‘subversive, profound and very funny examination of language and linguistic confusion’ that the EIF programme describes was certainly appealing.  My experience of watching the play was somewhat different.

Maybe it was literally lost in translation but the experience was like watching Eurovision – it was music but not quite rock ‘n’ roll. It felt cerebral, controlled and cold and more like a happening: absurdity shoed in to over-polished formality.  I found it difficult to enthuse about some wacky banister sliding after having seen some Fringe shows with less resources doing much more.

The individual performances were excellent and showed good portrayals of types with Graham F. Valentine giving a Fawltyesque demeanour to his character Higgins though I found it difficult to relate to anyone in particular. 

The standard of singing and musicianship was high though the eclectic mix of music from Silent Night, Weber, Wagner, Bryan Adams, Ravel and the Kenny Rogers’ hit, You Picked a Fine Time to Leave me Lucille, was frankly a mystery.

The ‘70s costumes from Sarah Schittek were superlative – all white polo necks and socks, shades of brown and beige, cream tights and crimplene, A lines and built up shoes that gave the some of the cast a look of the Reeves and Mortimer characters Mulligan and O’Hare.

As a Scot aware of the cultural impact of the imposition of a dominant language over a native one and the psychological confusion this can cause, I should have felt a resonance somewhere in the text but in fact found it esoteric and impenetrable.

On the Lowland Link bus home, there was a lively discussion among a group of passengers that I was relieved to hear echoed my sentiments about the play. Julie Sparks, a founding member of the International Shaw Society, ponders Shaw’s reaction to this latest adaptation in the play’s programme.  That is in the lap of the gods.  All I can say is Rex and Audrey, wo sind Sie?

Show times

14, 15 and 19 August 7.30pm

17 and 18 August 2pm

Ticket prices