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Vanessa Redgrave and Malcolm Sinclair: ‘My Fair Lady’ is a diamond musical

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Between Vanessa Redgrave and Malcolm Sinclair, their West End resumes include more than 35 shows. Now, for their latest theatrical appearance, the veteran actors star alongside one another in My Fair Lady at the London Coliseum as Mrs. Higgins and Colonel Pickering respectively. Even though they’ve worked on stage for decades, the chance of performing at the vast Coliseum marks a lifetime achievement.

As soon as we begin chatting about the show, Sinclair commented on the immense privilege of working at such a grand venue.

“Oh, the London Coliseum!” he exclaimed. “I’ve seen lots of operas there, but the idea of getting up and performing there is pretty marvellous.”

And My Fair Lady is a pretty marvellous musical to stage in London too. Bartlett Sher's 2018 10-time Tony-nominated revival now plays in the musical’s home setting, Covent Garden. So what does it mean for the pair to be in My Fair Lady this summer? We chatted to Redgrave and Sinclair about working with an energising, youthful cast, and what the show means in 2022.

My Fair Lady is at the London Coliseum.

My Fair Lady tickets are on sale now.

What drew you to My Fair Lady?

Malcolm Sinclair: I’d heard about the success of My Fair Lady in New York. In fact, a friend of mine played the role I’m playing now, and he had the best time ever. So when the opportunity came here and it was offered to me, I went 'Oh golly yes!'. Now I’ve started working with all the other people, I’m in very good company.

Vanessa Redgrave: It’s an extraordinary company. They’re glorious and marvellous beings. If I singled out something like Amara [Okereke]’s singing, which is extraordinary and beautiful, it’ll make it seem as though as the other things aren’t as good, but she’s superb. And Harry, who I didn’t see in Downton Abbey, but my god. I’m over the moon working with Harry!

Malcolm: And we’re both very happy about working with director Bartlett [Sher]. He’s really the top tier. He’s great fun, we’re all enjoying ourselves. When you enjoy yourself, you start inventing good things. When you say [things] to Bartlett, he goes 'That’s a great idea, let’s go with it.'

Vanessa: We are so carried away by the excitement of working with such a superb director in such an extraordinary musical which is full of incredible humour and real insights into this devilish class system in Britain. Now it’s more hidden, but it’s all coming out. And with the humour and sadness and the longing and the achievements that Eliza represents, it’s something special.

What makes this My Fair Lady stand out?

Vanessa: The audience will be so galvanised when they come and see this and tell their families and friends. This is not an old-timer musical, this is not the Golden Age musical, this is the diamond musical.

Malcolm: We’re not doing an old-fashioned musical. With the choreography and the acting, it’s modern. In the original play Pygmalion it’s based on, [George Bernard] Shaw was attacking the English class system. It’s a great show and a deeply moving show, but it’s not a cosy show.

Vanessa: Not in the least bit. It keeps making me think of today, of who’s trying to take us back to yesterday in everything.

Photo credit: Vanessa Redgrave and Malcolm Sinclair (Photo by Marc Brenner)

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