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Amara Okereke and Harry Hadden-Paton on why ‘My Fair Lady’ is like Shakespeare

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Amara Okereke is a relative West End newcomer. She graduated in 2018 and has since starred in Les Miserables and The Boy Friend. In 2018, Harry Hadden-Paton assumed his My Fair Lady role for Broadway performances. Fast-forward four years and the pair now co-star in the much-anticipated revival of My Fair Lady in the West End.

London’s latest Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins aren’t resting on their laurels, though. Speaking to the pair in rehearsals, we learned that they’re channelling what they’ve learned about themselves in recent years into these well-known characters.

“I've done My Fair Lady 500 times, but it's new every day to me. And I've got Amara who's delivering something new and fresh. It's almost unrecognisable in many ways,” explained Hadden-Paton.

So how does My Fair Lady go from being such a recognisable title to a new story? We spoke to Amara Okereke and Harry Hadden-Paton about the ways they approach their roles and honouring the original Pygmalion text.

My Fair Lady is at the London Coliseum.

My Fair Lady tickets are on sale now.

Why do you love about being part of My Fair Lady?

Amara Okereke: I love being this character. I think she's so cool. She's a brilliant person, so it's really fun to get to play in the show. I’m loving how I find myself in Eliza and finding Eliza in me.

And Harry, you previously played Higgins on Broadway. Now coming back to the show, how are you approaching the role?

Harry Hadden-Paton: I'm assuming most people have asked themselves some pretty big questions in the last few years. So I think I've changed. And one of the things, I guess, is that I want to enjoy every moment of every day and challenge myself – and doing this fits in perfectly with that. It's an incredible piece.

The writing is what I always come back to, and it's as good as any Shakespeare you know. The journeys all the characters go on are so rich and so multifaceted that [there's] always something to explore.

Talking about the new take, Amara, what was the My Fair Lady that you grew up thinking about?

Amara: I watched the film very young and watched it about a million times. But I also would listen to the soundtrack with Julie Andrews. So I would have a picture of Eliza and it’d be idolised like Audrey Hepburn, or just listening to Julie Andrews' voice nonstop.

For me, all the Elizas as a collective have been played by and represented by these extraordinary women who have changed the industry that they're in. Audrey Hepburn is an icon, so is Julie Andrews. I think that's what Eliza is, but she's in all of those different actresses that played her.

I just hope that I’m able to bring what they have, and what they have within that character to life. But from my own perspective and understanding and experience.

With this My Fair Lady, there is a different ending. How do you think the audience will react to that?

Harry: It depends what they've seen. If they've seen Rex Harrison, they're going to be expecting the sort of romcom ending. If they've read George Bernard Shaw, they won't be surprised. What we're doing is going back to the texts, what he intended, in many ways, and also delivering it for an audience who have come a long way since 1950.

It’s what Bernard Shaw intended. We got the My Fair Lady film, we've got the Pygmalion play, the Pygmalion movie with Leslie Howard, and he won the Oscar for [the latter]. So we were able to cherry pick different bits of the text to illustrate things that are more resonant for people today. And that's the joy of working on a show like this. The rights aren't just handed out willy-nilly. This is every 20 years you get to do this, so it's very exciting.

Amara: I think audiences will go away thinking a lot about the play in a different way. Whether they prefer the ending or don’t, they'll have a new way of looking at the writing and the characters. I think that's all you can ask for.

Photo credit: Amara Okereke and Harry Hadden-Paton (Photo by Marc Brenner)

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