Educating Rita is a witty comedy about class differences

Educating Rita is a witty two-worlds-collide comedy about class differences in education and the possibility of reinventing oneself. VERONICA LEE gives her verdict

Educating Rita (Rose Theatre, Kingston)

Verdict: Spirited two-hander

Rating:

What a joy it was to see Max Roberts’ 40th-anniversary production of Willy Russell’s modern classic; it shows that, like good wine, great plays age gracefully.

The two-hander stars Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel, DCI Banks) as alcoholic academic Frank opposite Jessica Johnson as gobby Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita, his Open University student.

It’s a witty two-worlds-collide comedy about class differences in education and the possibility of reinventing oneself. Little by little, as Rita asks Frank to ‘teach me everything’ they learn from each other, not least how to be true to themselves.

Bookish: Educating Rita stars Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel) as alcoholic academic Frank opposite Jessica Johnson as gobby Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita, his university student

More to come: It’s a witty two-worlds-collide comedy about class differences in education and the possibility of reinventing oneself

Rita is desperate to escape her narrow working-class horizons, and thinks she has landed in heaven when she enters Eng. Lit. tutor Frank’s book-lined study, overlooking the green quad filled with ‘proper’ students. 

Frank, meanwhile, has taken on the extra-curricular work to pay for his booze as his domestic life becomes ever more chaotic.

But it isn’t a simple transaction for either of them; while Frank’s tuition initially satisfies Rita’s thirst for knowledge, she eventually finds other intellectual nourishment, leaving Frank, a would-be poet in his youth, stuck in his own self-loathing. 

Different view: Rita is desperate to escape her narrow working-class horizons, and thinks she has landed in heaven when she enters Eng. Lit. tutor Frank’s book-lined study

Character: Russell’s script nicely contrasts Rita’s whip-smart lines with Frank’s mordant world view, while Rita’s costumes subtly mark her journey – garish jumpers bought from a market stall giving way to studenty dungarees

Russell’s script nicely contrasts Rita’s whip-smart lines with Frank’s mordant world view, while Rita’s costumes subtly mark her journey – garish jumpers bought from a market stall giving way to studenty dungarees. Frank, meanwhile, remains crumpled in corduroy throughout. 

Miss Johnson moves believably from cheeky Scouser to a quieter, more reflective woman finding her own voice, and Mr Tompkinson gives a nicely observed portrayal of a man forced to ponder his inadequacies.

Their warm-hearted performances have real chemistry and, while the play may be a brilliant snapshot of the Thatcher-era UK, this spirited production shows us its themes are still relevant today.

For information about performances, visit rosetheatre.org 

Depth: Miss Johnson moves believably from cheeky Scouser to a quieter, more reflective woman finding her own voice

Impressive: Their performances have real chemistry and, while the play may be a brilliant snapshot of the Thatcher-era UK, this spirited production shows us its themes are still relevant today

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