Frank and Rita. Pictures: Richard Davenport
WILLY Russell’s Educating Rita is a well-known piece, but this production has a freshness to it that gives the impression of hearing the dialogue for the first time. It is delivered with punch, pathos, and humour.
The fine set displays the shambolic disorder of Frank’s (David Birrell) tutorial room with yards of books suspended from the ceiling; many concealing bottles of whisky, his companion and constant escape from the mundane routine of ungrateful students and a nagging partner.
Rita (Jessica Baglow) arrives as a breath of fresh air with a mission to better both herself and her circumstances. The hairdresser, frustrated with her life, has a thirst for culture and literature. Socially inept, but naturally funny, and enthusiastic, Rita quickly persuades Frank to take on the role of her open university tutor.
Fragilities and flaws in both of their lives become evident creating a strong bond and friendship between them – or is it love? Relationships, fulfilment, insecurities, deception, happiness, jealousy, envy and despair are played out beautifully by the two actors.
Occasional odd hand gestures from Birrell distract slightly from what is otherwise a credible and exquisite performance. Baglow captures the character superbly and her impassioned performance is a delight to watch. The two complement each other perfectly and are well cast as the two characters from opposite ends of the social scale who somehow manage to find a common ground.
Russell’s engaging script, which questions the role of academia and education whilst highlighting the social attitudes toward it, remains as meaningful today as it was in 1980.
Highly recommended. To 11-03-17
Rosemary Manjunath and Elizabeth Smith