BWW Blog: Brandon Davidson of MY FAIR LADY - London, England in 1912
Setting: London, England
Are you intrigued by the class and elegance of a different time? Are you perhaps a bit nostalgic for the 1940s like me? After performing in My Fair Lady (and watching the TV series Downton Abbey), I have developed a new interest in the 1910s-era in England, its style, and the manors of its citizens.
Welcome back readers. Today I thought it would be fun to discuss the time period of My Fair Lady, and the important elements involved in re-creating this time period. As I mentioned before, if you're a fan of the TV series Downton Abbey or the movie Titanic, you will already be well versed in this era.
A history lesson: England in 1912 (the time of My Fair Lady) is commonly referred to as Edwardian England, named after King Edward VII. He reigned from 1901 to 1910, and although King Edward died in 1910, the Edwardian era often extends to (and beyond) the start of World War I in 1914. In England, the time before World War I was one of clear class distinctions. An obvious marker of someone's class was his dialect, this being a major theme in My Fair Lady.
Upon entering the Robert G. Reim, Stages St. Louis theatre here in Kirkwood, you will immediately notice two important set pieces which signify time period & place for My Fair Lady. The first piece is hanging above the center of the stage: It is the Lion and the Unicorn, the royal coat of arms for the UK. On the same level, on either side of the stage, you will see the "VR" insignia. "VR" stands for Victoria Regina, the Queen of England who died about twelve years before My Fair Lady takes place. We see her insignia above the set for Covent Garden which, I believe, would have been built during her reign.
Stage lighting also plays a huge role in depicting time and place. It is one of my favorite storytelling elements at play in the theatre - often subtle and subliminal. The bulk of scenes featuring the lower class, "cockney" types in My Fair Lady are played outdoors. To evoke the cold & damp outside where Eliza sells flowers, the stage is washed with dim lights and cool colors. Watching this scene, the audience will have a visceral sense of chill. The life of a "cockney" was difficult, and often times their work was outside no matter what the weather.
In contrast, the color palette in Henry Higgins' study is warm and cozy. Eliza sings, "All I want is a room somewhere far away from the cold night air - with one enormous chair. Oh, wouldn't it be loverly!" Well, she finds her room in Higgins' study. And in his study are other, not-so-subtle markers of time period. We see three or more Gramophones, a room papered with the typical English-style William-Morris floral wall paper, and the elegant, wooden furniture.
Other fun markers of period include facial hair (like "mutton chops" & the handlebar mustache), skirt lengths for women (long), black top hats, bowler hats, large decorative hats for women, gas-lit lamps on the set and some more surprise elements you will just have to buy a ticket to see. If you're interested in being transported back to a charming interpretation of London, 1912, then come on down to Kirkwood and witness the beautiful design (and talent) featured in My Fair Lady.