As I got to my seat I realised I hadn’t actually seen the film Educating Rita and didn’t really know the story all that well – however a play by Willy Russell (Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers) and the casting of Stephen Tompkinson (DCI Banks, Drop the Dead Donkey) had set my expectations high…
…and disappointed I was not – this Theatre by the Lake production, directed by Max Roberts provided the right mixture of laughs and sentiment combined with a clever set design and two outstanding actors who easily held their own in roles made famous by Michael Caine and Julie Walters (big shoes to fill and filled with ease.)
Set in Liverpool in the 70s, Educating Rita tells the story of married hairdresser Susan who in her late 20s decides to enrol in an open university course in an attempt to break from her working class life – even changing her name to “Rita”
We start as Rita (Jessica Johnson) meets her tutor Frank in his office the base for the entire play – and as the play progresses the change in days/weeks are cleverly noted with dimming of lights and musical interludes.
Frank is considered a brilliant academic and probably why he still has job despite the obvious drinking (hides his bottles behind the magnificent display of books) – divorced and not really into his current relationship
What unfolds is Rita’s determination to better herself and as she breaks free from her stifled marriage you see her adapt to “fit in” with the younger students and relish the chances to visit the theatre and broaden her horizons.
We also witness the fascinating transition of Frank from a fun steady drinker to a heavier drinker to finally getting drunk during a lecture as he becomes more and more obsessed with Rita yet more frustrated as she relies on him less and less.
Acting on TV/Film is one thing – screw up a line, retake – being up stage and remembering all that dialogue in front of a live audience takes a different kind of skill and I admire anyone who gives it a go – Stephen and Jessica didn’t just give it a go they fully embodied these roles and didn’t trip a single word.
Lots of laughter from a fab script perfectly delivered by two fine actors who both seem very humbled and appreciative of the well deserved standing ovation.
Educating Rita, Theatre Royal Nottingham until Saturday 28th May