Pygmalion and the ending of the play

Pygmalion and The Ending of the Play
Last night in rehearsal we ran through what I had thought would be a new way of clarifying the ending to Pygmalion. Shaw had written an epilogue almost as long as the play defining what happened to all the characters involved. I had been familiar with this text for a long time and thought I had known the origins of it. We have an edited down version and were planning on presenting this at the end of the work. The play itself ends on an odd note; with the audience not quite sure of what is to come. I thought it would be a new way of helping us see what Shaw intended. It took an actor in the company to challenge my ideas on the subject and has altered how we will present the work.

For a man who championed women’s rights, and independence, the epilogue is at odds with this idea of what might have happened to Eliza. I am lucky to work with a well-informed, well-read group of performers who have strong opinions on the literature we bring to life and how we represent the author’s work.

Shaw did not like the way actors and directors were interpreting his play. As a staunch socialist he was not a popular author in his own time. But he knew this work would keep him financially secure; something that was not always the case for him. Shaw was also working in a time where any sign of ambiguity on certain issues was a dangerous thing. As it was made into a film it had to have a strong ending for the general audiences to hold onto. Man meets girl, man makes her into a self realized person, girl becomes independent, leaves man, man despairs, girl returns. This is the formula of the film, NOT the formula of the play.

What were the real options for Eliza? She had many, and marrying Freddie is actually low on the list and not very likely. Freddie, as dear as he is, is broke and must marry for money. I cannot see how his mother or Mrs. Higgins would have allowed or encouraged this option. Eliza herself deplores this option. In their confrontation after the night of success, when Higgins suggests that she can marry for money, Eliza says, “We were above that on Tottingham Court Road, we sold flowers, not ourselves.”

In the last scene her options flash before her: she can teach, become a secretary, marry Freddie, any number of things are possible. Higgins’ idea that they all live together as three merry bachelors is out of the question. Eliza is now more aware of class distinction, and the repercussions she will face. She cannot, as Shaw puts it, return to the morals of the undeserving poor, morals that appear to be shared by the aristocracy, but not the entrenched middle class. What does she do?

That became the basis of a long discussion at our rehearsal. The actor who broached the subject very rightly said that we are good enough actors to make this work without spoon feeding the audience. I agree. I don’t want to make work that leaves no room for discussion, no room to interpret for yourself what happened or what could happen. That isn’t my job or my role, it belongs to the audience. I also don’t want to assume the audience cannot figure this out for themselves. Unlike the musical version of this story, the play does not tie things up in a bow. We will be giving you what Shaw put forward first, his first impression, not what he altered later for what ever reason. The audience gets to decide.


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