'Daft' theatre bosses slap trigger warning on production of Pygmalion, classic play that inspired My Fair Lady

5 May 2023, 00:59 | Updated: 5 May 2023, 13:31

Former MP Ann Widdecombe branded the move 'daft'
Former MP Ann Widdecombe branded the move 'daft'. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

London theatre bosses have been branded "daft" for putting a trigger warning on a production of Pygmalion, the early 20th century play that inspired My Fair Lady.

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Pygmalion, written by George Bernard Shaw and first performed in 1913, depicts professor Henry Higgins trying to teach Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle how to speak 'correct English' and become an elegant lady of polite society.

The play became the basis of the 1964 film classic My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.

But people buying tickets for a new production of Pygmalion at the famous Old Vic theatre, close to Waterloo Station - for as much as £140 - have been warned that the play "contains portrayals of abuse, abusive language and coercive control."

Former Conservative MP and Strictly Come Dancing participant Ann Widdecombe said of the new trigger warning: "This is so daft it beggars belief.

Ann Widdecombe branded the move 'daft'
Ann Widdecombe branded the move 'daft'. Picture: Alamy

"One wonders what the point of it all really is," she told the Sun. "As Eliza Doolittle might say, ‘Coercive control, duck? Not Pygmalion likely!"

The play itself is based on the story of a Greek sculptor called Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue that he had carved himself.

Read more: Kevin Spacey did not sexually assault teenage boy, jury finds

Read more: Old Vic sparks social media storm after making all toilets gender-neutral

Bernard Shaw's script works as a satire of the rigid British class system of the time.

Prof Higgins, who specialises in phonetics, makes a bet that by changing the way Eliza speaks he can pass her off in polite society within six months.

Eliza is then put through difficult training in order to become a 'society woman'.

Diana Rigg appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion in 1974
Diana Rigg appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion in 1974. Picture: Alamy

Some critics argue that she becomes more independent by the end of the play than in the 1964 film.

The Old Vic previously sparked a debate on social media after replacing single-sex toilets with more inclusive bathrooms.

A major refurbishment at the theatre in 2019 saw the replacement of male and female signs on toilet doors with a notice displaying either a cubicle or a urinal.

The theatre said the move was to allow “people to make their own decision about which loo is suitable for them" and has seen the number of toilet cubicles double.

Some people were concerned that women would lose dedicated spaces, while others welcomed the decision to become more "inclusive".

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