The Komische Oper proves My Fair Lady works just as well in German.
It’s weird to go see a play about language politics in translation. It’s not that “the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain” doesn’t translate – es grünt so grün wenn Spaniens Blüten blühen is just as effective. It’s that the musical’s critique of rigid British class hierarchy – that the line between worker and princess is a matter of vowel length – falls completely flat in a German context. Eliza’s cockney is in fact rendered in Berlinerisch, but because class isn’t so clearly encoded in German, you’re stuck with other, lazier shorthands: overalls and plaid shirts, caps and fake-dirt makeup.
It’s also weird to see a familiar musical done in light-opera style, which is to say, it’s extremely stagey. A minimalist set of gramophones of various sizes stands in for realistic fly-ins of living rooms and street scenes. And, of course, a rewatch makes it clear how completely sexist and classist the story is – whereas Shaw insisted in Pygmalion that Eliza, once emancipated, must remain so, the Lerner and Loewe musical ends with an ambiguous stand-off between the transformed Eliza Doolittle and her curmudgeonly professor, Henry Higgins. In this production, director Andreas Komoki has the pair gallop offstage, laughing, hand-in-hand, after vowing not minutes before to make a life apart from each other. It’s nonsense, and it’s offensive.
But none of this matters. The Komische Oper’s performers all work it, and Homoki does his best to lighten the book’s misogyny with playful homoeroticism. Unless, like Henry Higgins, you have a meatball where your heart should be, My Fair Lady’s considerable charms win out. See it in April before it disappears until summer 2018.
My Fair Lady, April 1, 15, 19:30 (in German) | Komische Oper, Mitte