Educating Rita: From the Menier Chocolate Factory
“A Lesson in Change”
Review by Jennifer Adam
First staged in 1980 and adapted for film in 1983, Educating Rita by Willy Russell could have easily been brushed by the wayside of mainstream contemporary theatre for being dated and forgotten.
However, as well as the play acknowledging the issues of class, gender and superiority, Educating Rita also explores the nature of personal relationships and the desperate need for self-discovery, with an optimistic outlook welcoming the possibility of change. This is why Educating Rita has been continually adapted and performed and, like the many texts and poems discussed on stage, has stood the test of time.
When brash Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita charges into the office of a cynical, heavy drinking Professor called Frank, there is an instant connection between the mismatched pair. Both lost and lonely, their relationship grows through mutual dependency on each other and a love of literature as Frank teaches her how to write critical essays in preparation for her Open University exams. As the weeks and months go by the two characters evolve and almost swap roles; Rita is suddenly eloquent and educated, while Frank has sunk deeper still into his hidden bottles of booze, reversing the tone of the play from one of comical mutual reliance to resentful melancholy.
Both actors portray a brilliant contrast of their characters’ desires for the same thing; Claire Sweeney adapts tremendously to Rita’s loud passionate need to prove herself, while Matthew Kelly delivers an equally capturing and infuriating Frank, whose silent but desperate plea to be needed echoes through the auditorium.
The fact that Sweeney and Kelly have now been performing Educating Rita together for some time, certainly adds to Rita and Frank’s heart-warming bond, they are genuinely comfortable with each other, and allow for their respective moments to shine.
If there was any criticism, it would be that only the dialogue hinted at a sense of change in time and it would have been beneficial to have seen some kind of light direction from behind the large office window which dominated the stage. Although in places the scenes felt rushed (likely down to adapting it for the Fringe) with both actors occasionally jumping in and cutting off the other’s lines, the pace of the production worked well, scene changes were swift and effective and carried the right atmosphere throughout.
Catch this show:
Every day until the 27th August (except the 13th) Assembly Theatre, George Square