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Classic theatre, with an accent

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Today a regional accent is often considered a symbol of your cultural pride, but not too long ago the wrong accent could stop you from getting a good job or from moving up in society.

This was the lesson learned when Bermuda High School students starting rehearsing for ‘My Fair Lady’, a hit musical from the 1960s.

‘My Fair Lady’ is about Eliza Doolittle, a poor woman in London who would like to work in a flower shop, but instead is forced to sell flowers on the street because of her heavy Cockney accent. In the play, the London flower shops will only hire people with posh accents. A linguist, Professor Henry Higgins, makes a bet with a friend, Colonel Pickering, that he can teach Ms Doolittle to speak like a lady and pass her off in British society without anyone guessing her common origins.

“Unfortunately, in the old days people really associated the way you spoke with your intelligence level,” said drama teacher Jane Thorpe, the play’s director.

“One of the main challenges is to have our actors speak Cockney and formal British English in a believable and understandable way. Added is the difficulty of singing quite complex songs in a dialect which is not native to our actors. The accents are so key to the play. In the audition process they had to be able to copy someone who could do it. Some people have an ear for accents and some people don’t. I had to make sure our leads could do the whole range.”

She said it helped if the student had someone at home with an English accent. Even if the accent was not Cockney London, the concept was easier to grasp.

Sixty students are taking part in the play. Katie Ewles will take on the role of Eliza Doolittle. Catriona Tate will star as Henry Higgins and Caroline Skinner will play Colonel Pickering.

‘My Fair Lady’ was based on ‘Pygmalion’, a 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw. It was made into a film in 1964.

“I get a lot of ‘my mum thinks this is great’ from the students,” said Ms Thorpe. “They did watch the movie, but I have discouraged them from watching it over and over again as I don’t want them to be overly influenced by it and try to play Eliza like Audrey Hepburn.”

A live orchestra made up of volunteers will accompany the actors.

Performances run tonight and tomorrow at 7pm and Saturday at 5pm.

For tickets call 295-6153 or e-mail boxoffice@bhs.bm. General admission is $20 for adults and $15 for students with preferred seating available for $25. Patrons can pay $50 for admission on the first night. Tickets include wine, canapés and preferred seating.

Bermuda High School students in 'My Fair Lady'.
Katie Ewles as Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady'.
Bermuda High School students performing 'My Fair Lady'.

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Published January 24, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm)

Classic theatre, with an accent

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