Cast located and hurried on stage, it was a triumphant performance. Rex’s dressing room was filled with well-wishers. Meanwhile Cecil Beaton stormed into Andrews’ room, picked up her hat and snapped, ‘Not that way you silly bitch!’ Andrews nearly burst into tears.
For all the bold characters in this production, Beaton was the biggest. Obsessive, bullish and yet brilliant. ‘Beaton sort of got my goat,’ wrote Andrews. ‘Because we were both British, I quickly picked up on something: he was grander than he had any right to be. Maybe I sensed arrogance or hidden ambition. Certainly he acted like a snob. I began to tease him a little, using my developing cockney accent to good effect when I felt he was being condescending or indifferent. And he liked it! I would glimpse the teeniest crack of a smile on his pursed lips and a slight twinkle in his eye when I deliberately flaunted a lower-class attitude. Eventually I believe we came to appreciate each other and his glorious costumes made one forget everything else anyway.’
Yet his remarkable costumes went a long way to defining My Fair Lady as a classic, and an aesthetic. As you read, the beautiful, not-yet-famous actress Amara Okereke is deep in rehearsals, transforming into Eliza. This month she appears, as Andrews did, in character on the cover of Tatler. And when the show opens on 17 May, her star, too, will rise. I wonder if the atmosphere in rehearsals is as dramatic as that of the 1950s. One thing’s for sure: when the show opens at the Coliseum Theatre, there will be a level of buzz that hasn’t been rivalled in years. And afterwards, the cast might just dance all night.