Ripped Jeans and Flowers

A Modern Production of Pygmalion

Heather Shore

In October, thirty students from Redeemer University College attended a 21st century version of the 100-year-old play Pygmalion. One of the intriguing aspects was whether or not original themes of the play still applied.

The creation of the play was roughly based on a Greek myth as told by the Roman poet Ovid. It was about a sculptor by the name of Pygmalion who fell in love with a statue of a woman and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite to make her human.

Pygmalion was created in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw. He was interested in portraying the common people of society rather than focus on the one percent elite.

In 1914, London audiences were introduced to the story about the life of a common flower girl named Eliza Doolittle and a bet made by two gentlemen to turn her into a lady of high standings within six months.

Attendees generally agreed the decision to set the play in the present was a smart move by the producers and directors, allowing the audience to have a closer relationship to Shaw’s original work.

“I think the modernization was a very strong aspect of the production,” says Rebeka Borshevsky, a fourth year English student. “I really enjoyed how they incorporated modern tech to emphasize their point.”

The play featured a variety of snippets of television shows and news reports dealing with class and status.

The television clips were inserted throughout the first half of the play to make the audience think about the various themes presented to them and if they still apply in the present.

“I think the clips about the class system in Britain today and the one about propaganda were strategically placed,” says Dr. Jonathan Juilfs, an English Professor at Redeemer. “I especially liked the propaganda one because it mirrored how Professor Higgins used language in an attempt to change Eliza from a flower girl to a promising lady. It also reflects how companies today persuade people to buy their products.”

Modern music was also incorporated into the production. Artists such as Janet Jackson, Kanye West and Sam Smith were heard throughout.

The costume designs reflected the shift in the time period also. Eliza wore ripped jeans and a sweater for the majority of the first act and Professor Higgins was mainly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.

Even some of the characters positions were altered in order to make them more compatible with the 21st century.

 “I loved how they portrayed Professor Higgins’ mother in the present,” says Borshevsky. “Rather than being portrayed as old money, she is an influential fashion designer who has created a good life for herself.”

Despite the updated setting, the characters were still faithful to the original personalities that Shaw created. “Higgins and Pickering are perfect examples of the stereotype of the British male: calm, serious and refusing to show their true emotions,” says Juilfs.

Pygmalion deals with the issues of class and position in society. Can a person of low status raise themselves up to middle or high class society? Can someone recreate a human being completely?