In part two of a series of interviews with the cast of Pygmalion at The British Players, meet John Allnutt who plays Colonel Pickering.
Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform on stage before. What roles did you play in these shows?
I’m John Allnutt and have been in various farces and Shaw plays over the years (Montgomery Playhouse, TAP, British Players); a number of Hexagon shows portraying presidents named Bush; Harold Hill in The Music Man at Potomac Theatre Company; and Captain von Trapp for the 1986 RMT production of The Sound of Music.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of Pygmalion? It is, of course, an extremely well-known play. What inspired you to audition?
Pygmalion is one of my favorite plays. I consider it a perfect play. I played Henry Higgins in a Quotidian Theatre production of it 2007. It’s like a song you enjoy listening to multiple times. This is one of very few plays I’ve done a second time.
Who do you play in the show? How do you relate to him?
I play Colonel Pickering, and enjoy the gentlemanly way he treats Eliza. I think he’s written as the character the audience genuinely likes standing next to Higgins.
What is Pygmalion about from the point of view of your character?
He brings out the ladylike behavior in Eliza – and she tells him so in the last scene. Conversely, the scrappy Higgins brings out the street-smart scrappiness in Eliza – and she practically tells Higgins that in the same scene (without Pickering present).
What challenges have you had preparing for the role, and how did Director Pauline Griller-Mitchell help you through these challenges? What was the best advice she gave you on how to play your role?
Pauline gave me quite a bit of leeway to develop Pickering. I’ve worked with her several times before. She did remind me that my posture needed a more military erectness.
What is your favorite line or lines that your character says, and what is your favorite line that someone else says in the show?
For favorite funny line of my character – and Pickering has very few of them – I like his answer to Mrs. Higgins as to “…what came in to Wimpole Street with Eliza?” Answer: “Her father. But Henry soon got rid of him.”
For sober self-awareness in his golden years, Pickering says, “I rather enjoy dipping into [the social routine] occasionally… Makes me feel young again…”
For wisdom and best come-back line from the otherwise bully Higgins – in which he actually treats Eliza as an equal, there’s this: “No use slaving for me and asking to be cared for. Who wants to care for a slave?”
What does Pygmalion have to say to today’s audiences?
Differences in gender and class still make for conflict in life and art. This play still enchants at 103 years old.
If you could change what happens to your character, what would you like to see happening to your character at the end of the play?
The play is really about Higgins and Eliza. But if I shall fantasize on Colonel Pickering’s behalf for this question – it would be to take his surrogate daughter Eliza to a play or an opera in the West End.
Why should local theatergoers come and see Pygmalion?
It is a timeless romantic comedy. If you’ve only seen My Fair Lady, you should indulge in Shaw’s original play version.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I don’t know. Wouldn’t want to jinx an audition anyway!