The chief response to The Old Vic's marmite revival of George Bernard Shaw's most popular drama is 'what a waste of talent.'

Those who have caught past performances by Olivier award winners Bertie Carvel and Patsy Ferran were salivating at their pairing as pompous phonetics Professor Higgins, and Cockney flower-seller Eliza Doolittle.

She's been played by everyone from Twiggy to Diana Rigg, and Lerner and Loewe's musical adaptation My Fair Lady starring Audrey Hepburn has somewhat overshadowed its source material.Ham & High: Patsy Ferran as Eliza and Michael Gould as Colonel Pickering in PygmalionPatsy Ferran as Eliza and Michael Gould as Colonel Pickering in Pygmalion (Image: Manuel Harlan)

So the stellar casting seemed the big draw in dusting off Shaw's 1913 treatise on female independence and how accents do, and don't, dictate social mobility.

Updating proceedings to the 1930s, director Richard Jones initially chooses to play Pygmalion's heightened realism as broad farce, complete with banging doors, over the top acting, and melodramatic mugging.

Even fans would admit that Shaw is given to wordiness, but here witty, well-crafted lines are shouted or gabbled at such pace that well intended points about class and the strictures of 'middle class morality,' are lost.

Most damningly there's no chemistry between Carvel's camp, bullying Higgins and Ferran's squawking, caricature - and little joy in the usually fun makeover that flows from a bet to pass off a lower class 'squashed cabbage' as a Duchess.Ham & High: The company of Pygmalion at The Old VicThe company of Pygmalion at The Old Vic (Image: Manuel Harlan)

Jones' production does work sporadically. The updating draws attention to women's emerging independence in the interwar years, and Stewart Laing's pegboard set creates an actual phonetics lab for Higgins' pseudo-science.

Ferran is a gifted comic actor and the tea party at Higgins' mother's house when she recounts the story of the aunt 'wot died from influenza' is pure gold. Her mobile features betray her confusion about what she might have said wrong, perfectly capturing Eliza's dilemma with a foot in each class.

Sylvestra Le Touzel makes hay with the acerbic no-nonsense Mrs Higgins, John Marquez does a lively turn as the philosphising Alfred Doolittle, and Taheen Modak's airhead flower-toting Freddy makes Higgins' final exclamation 'Marry Freddy, Ha!' feel truly apt.Ham & High: Bertie Carvel as Henry HigginsBertie Carvel as Henry Higgins (Image: Manuel Harlan)

It is Carvel's creepy, childish Higgins that fares the worst. Revisionism is all very well but making him irredeemably awful cauterises any emotional heart in the play.

Shaw cared passionately about Eliza's fate, insisting on his original ending that she break free from the emotionally-stunted Higgins. But despite Ferrans' estimable talent her final emergence as independent spirit feels flat.

Pygmalion runs at The Old Vic until October 28.