Description

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion became an international phenomenon after it premiered in Vienna in 1913 as a German translation. These photographs provide an insight into some of the translated productions that were subsequently staged in Poland in 1914, Paris in 1923, and Soviet Russia in 1932.

‘There was no country which didn't have its own “take” on the subjects of class division and social mobility’, notes Anne Summers. ‘It's as enjoyable to view these subtle differences in settings and costumes as it is to imagine translators wracking their brains for their own equivalent of “Not bloody likely”’.[1]

Polish production of 1914

The photographs of the Polish production show the attention paid to characters’ stage positions, as well as movement and gesture, to signify their nature and social standing.

In Act 3 (set in Mrs Higgins’s drawing room), the socially conventional characters sit in chairs, including stately Mrs Higgins, Freddy (who sits in a particularly stiff and formal way, in thrall to Eliza), and the gentlemanly Pickering. Eliza, without a hint of self-consciousness, casually reclines on the ottoman, speaking ‘the new small talk’ across the room to the other guests. The animated, socially eccentric Henry Higgins, who is displaced from his seat throughout the scene and increasingly frustrates his mother, is sat childishly with legs crossed on the floor (a detail not in Shaw’s original script).

Paris production of 1923

In the Parisian production, which starred the actress and theatre manager Paulette Pax as Eliza Doolittle, the photographs show the actors using melodramatic facial expressions. The series of photographs displays a clear physical transformation in Eliza, from flower girl to ‘duchess’.

[1] Anne Summers, ‘The lesson of a Polish production of Pygmalion’, republished by The Independent (2 July 2001) <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/anne-summers-the-lesson-of-a-polish-production-of-pygmalion-9182991.html> [accessed 30 September 2016]

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