Pygmalion is Greek mythical character, about whom a number of dramatic works have been written.
Also written Pigmalion in some cases, notably from the French and Italian.
- 1 The character
- 2 Plays written about the character
- 3 Plays by this name performed in South Africa
- 4 Sources
- 5 Return to
Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton, and is most familiar from Ovid's narrative poem Metamorphoses, X, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.
Plays written about the character
There have been a number of theatrical works over the centuries based on the story of the Greek mythological figure Pygmalion. Many works used this title or use the name in the title of the work.
Among them are Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Pigmalion (1748); Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion (1762, staged 1770); Donizetti's first opera, Il Pigmalione (1816); William Brough's Pygmalion, or The Statue Fair (1867); W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), Marius Petipa and Nikita Trubetskoi's four act ballet Pygmalion, ou La Statue de Chypre(1883); George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (1912, staged 1914) and My Fair Lady (based on Shaw's play).
Plays by this name performed in South Africa
A number of the above works have been performed in South Africa, and they are discussed below.
Pygmalion by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
A one-act scène lyrique (lyrical drama) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with music by Horace Coignet. Can be considered one of the first ever melodramas, in the original sense – i.e. a play consisting of pantomime gestures and the spoken word, both with a musical accompaniment. Written in 1762, It was first performed by amateurs at the Hôtel de Ville, Lyon in 1770, became part of the repertory of the Comédie-Française for about five years.
South African Performances
1803: Performed in French in the African Theatre by the Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap, led by Charles Mathurin Villet, on 29 October 1803, with Le Directeur de la Comédie as afterpiece. In both pieces the lead role was taken by Mr Delémery, possibly a visiting professional actor.
1806: Performed in French in the African Theatre by the Het Fransche Liefhebbery Geselschap, led by Charles Mathurin Villet, on 31 May 1806, starring Mr Delémery again and Men Doet Wat Men Kan, Niet Wat Men Wil (Dorvigny, tr. Ogelwight). (Bosman appears to also mention an unnamed Lyrische Scene done by Delémery, but the problem is clearly his sentence structure - he is actually referring to Rousseau's work.)
18**: Some sources mention a play called Pygmalion produced in South Africa by Disney Roebuck. Though it may possibly have been a version of this play, it is far more likely to have been a reference to his performances of Pygmalion & Galatea (see below).
Pygmalion and Galatea by W.S. Gilbert (1871)
Called "an Original Mythological Comedy", it is a blank verse play in three acts, based on the Pygmalion story. It opened at the Haymarket Theatre in London on 9 December 1871 and ran for a very successful 184 performances
South African Performances
1873: Performed by Disney Roebuck and his company in Simonstown, on 20 December.
1877: Performed by the Disney Roebuck company in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, on 7 August with The Happy Ashantees (Anon.) and Mr & Mrs White (Raymond). On one occasion wrongly listed by F.C.L. Bosman (1980:p. 359) as Pygmalion & Galathea.
1888-9: The play was part of the repertoire of Lillian Beddard and her Shakesperian company that toured South Africa in this period, visiting Cape Town in 1888, and Johannesburg and Kimberley in 1889. Specifically mentioned is a performance of the first act of Pygmalion and Galatea (Gilbert) in Cape Town (as part of an event called Grand Classical Performance in the Exhibition Theatre, Cape Town, on 3 May 1888.
Pygmalion by G.B. Shaw (1912).
The play by George Bernard Shaw tells the story of the poor flower seller who wants to be a lady, and is taught to "speak proper" by the professor Higgins. Written in 1912, it was first staged in 1914.
The play has had many spin-offs, including a fine film by Gabriel Pascal and, perhaps most famously, the stage and film musical My Fair Lady (Lerner and Loewe). (For South African stage performances see My Fair Lady)
South African Performances
1925: Shaw's play was first staged by the Macdona Players at His Majesty's Theatre on 25 May 1925. The cast included George Wray (Professor Henry Higgins), Joan Hopegood (Eliza Doolittle), Stanley Drewitt (Colonel Pickering), A.S. Humewood (Alfred Doolittle), Mary Wray (Mrs. Pearce), Joan Blair (Mrs. Higgins), Naomi Rutherford (Mrs. Eynsford Hill). The producer was Stanley Drewitt.
1946: Presented at Cape Town's Alhambra Theatre by the Munro-Inglis Company in collaboration with African Consolidated Theatres in October 1946, starring Nan Munro, Rayne Kruger, Henry Gilbert, Will Jamieson, Doreen Hamshaw, Jeannie Targowsky. Sets by Len Grossett.
1975: Directed by Peter Curtis for CAPAB opening 22 November with Lois Butlin as Eliza Doolittle and other cast members including Nicholas Ellenbogen, Mary Dreyer, Marion Achber, Dugald Thomson, Colin Duell, John Whiteley, Arthur Hall, Michael Atkinson, Joyce Bradley, Simon Swindell, Ann Courtneidge, Joanne Elkon. Set design by Ken Robinson, costume design by Jennifer Craig, lighting design by John T. Baker.
Rand Daily Mail, 26 May, 1925
Michael O'Dea. , 2016. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Music, Illusion and Desire, Springer: p. 234.
Trek, 8(7):20, 1943; 11(7):18, 1946.
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