Here is Mr. Shaw in his most benign mood. He could not here find it in his heart to give anything sharper than a genial thrust at his dearest enemies. For once, he lets off with a caution even the middle-classes, even morality. It would have been too great a sacrifice not to bring them into court. The hero is permitted to assure us without a glimpse of irony visible that a sneer spoils the look both of the face and the soul.
I'm not sure Shaw would have taken "genial" as a compliment, but it certainly does describe the play, perhaps in spite of the playwright's own desires. According to the review, Sir Herbert Tree, who played Higgins, made a speech after the curtain fell, claiming "there had been so much laughter that Mr. Shaw had left the theatre in despair." Whether that was literally true or not, Shaw was famous for requesting that his very funny plays be received in respectful silence, an absolute impossibility when it comes to a piece as funny as Pygmalion.
Mrs. Patrick Campbell disguised herself excellently in the flower girl's primitive squalor, and her cockney accent was (to one who cannot distinguish a hundred and thirty vowel sounds) exactly right and supremely funny. The whole attitude of the girl was excellently managed. With very delicate art we had the gradual progress of Eliza suggested, and throughout the scene in which the small talk of the gutter comes with slow, elaborate beauty, Mrs. Campbell's comedy was rich and rare. Afterwards, as a fine lady, she played with any amount of fire.
Playing with fire is precisely what the play does so well. It should be no wonder that a hundred years later the piece is still burning brightly.
By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the Shaw Society, go here:
International Shaw Society