Take Pygmalion at face value and you will see the witty, razor-tongued play that inspired the musical My Fair Lady.

Scratch the surface slightly and you will see George Bernard Shaw’s eclectic and timeless social criticism.

At a time when the posh and well-spoken attempt to shield their Queen’s English accents by dropping Hs and the like, Pygmalion is the reverse.

Eliza Doolittle (Rachel Barry) is a simple Cockney flower girl before being taken under the wing of the professor, Henry Higgins (Alistair McGowan).

Higgins has a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering (Paul Brightwell) he can turn the “common” Eliza into a “lady” in just six months.

Newcomer Barry excels in the role of a character made so famous by Julie Andrews, to the point where you forget about previous incarnations.

Special mentions must also be given to Rula Lenska, who plays Mrs Higgins, and Jamie Foreman as Eliza’s father, Alfred.

Mrs Higgins transforms from a lady who hosts “at home” tea parties to the rock and voice of reason Eliza can turn to when her son’s arrogance causes tension.

Alfred is genuine all the way through, admitting his faults and feeling lost when his identity becomes overshadowed by his newly-found wealth.

McGowan and Brightwell make a fine double-act as Higgins and Pickering, with the former offending with his over-thinking, or lack of it.

Conversely, Pickering treats Eliza with total respect throughout her time with them.

It must be said, McGowan is captivating as Higgins, and plays the role with the swagger and physical unpredictably of a Rowan Atkinson character.

The final scene seems a little prolonged and the dialogue over-egged in places but director David Grindley’s take on this old play, first performed in 1914, makes for an enjoyable trip to the theatre.

Catch Pygmalion at Richmond Theatre this week before it closes on Saturday, April 19.