Alistair McGowan will take centre stage at Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday, starring in Bernard Shaw’s classic, Pygmalion – touring again for its centenary year.
BAFTA award-winner Alistair is reprising his West End role of Professor Higgins –which he originally played at the Garrick Theatre in 2011.
He is joined by an equally impressive cast for the theatrical ride.
Rula Lenska has been cast as Mrs Higgins, with stage and television familiar Jamie Foreman as Alfred Doolittle.
Rachel Barry will play Eliza Doolittle in the play, which proved the basis for My Fair Lady.
Professor of Phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet with his friend, the amiable Colonnel Pickering that he can transform the manners and speech of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and pass her off as a lady in society.
Unlike the musical that came later, this is without song, and those oh-so-famous ‘rain in Spain’ lessons that are so memorable from the film don’t feature in this original delivery.
“You just see her integrating in the Higgins household and how these two confirmed bachelors – Pickering and Higgins – cope with this rather beautiful, young girl,” Rula explains.
“There is a suspicion perhaps, as to what exactly her position in the household is – is she a servant or is she something more than that?
“None of that is ever completely resolved, and then of course there is the Mr Doolittle part, Eliza’s father, which is much more broadly explored in the play than it is in the musical.”
Rula loves the work, and really believes in it: “It would be lovely if it was on the school curriculum,” she wishes.
“I think it is a play that would be enjoyed across the ages...
“It was written 100 years ago, and if you come and see it now I am sure that everybody from every age group will find parallels of today in it, which is fairly extraordinary.”
The role of Mrs Higgins is one that Rula is genuinely excited about too.
“The older one gets, the more a challenge is interesting and exciting.
“I always had either the luck or misfortune of being, in my younger years, glamorously cast, and it has been really hard to jump into the transition of character parts,” she told me.
“There aren’t that many of them around for women of a certain age, and so when something like this comes up – a delicious cameo with all the right ingredients to make that sort of jump, hopefully people will see me in a slightly different light.”
When not working on the stage, Rula is working for the causes close to her heart – she is heavily involved in conservation work, and elephants are her big passion.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with them and they are the most extraordinarily intelligent, wonderful creatures and the world will be a much , much sadder place without them.
“When you see people massacring herds of elephants just for their ivory it makes me feel really ill, and bears being milked for their bile...totally inhumane situations.
“I can’t physically do much when I am on tour, but I am always involved, always in touch with people and I do what I can.”
We read somewhere that Rula Lenska calls herself ‘passionate, romantic and slightly eccentric.’
Is that so?
“I am passionate about everything – whether it’s work, family, adventures, projects, whatever.
“Passion is what makes you deeply involved.
“And Slightly eccentric?
“I suppose it depends on your point of view – I refuse to stick by the norm – like at a certain age you aren’t supposed to do this or that.
“Well, I believe I have taste and that I know how and what I look good in and it doesn’t matter if it’s fashionable or not, or whether it’s deemed suitable for a woman over the age of 60. I will still do it.
“I’m happy to sometimes go against the grain...I’ve always been a rebel and don’t see why that should stop.”
Tickets for pygmalion are on sale now.
Call the box office on 0844 871 7652 or go online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes