Lucy Gooder reviews the Library Theatre Company’s ‘Educating Rita’ at the Lowry.
Never having read the play Educating Rita and having heard only its synopsis- two worlds collide as bubbly hairdresser Rita enters higher education to be taught by jaded, downtrodden and somewhat alcoholic professor Frank- I was a little wary that the ‘hilarious comedy’ would be in danger of tipping into farce. Luckily my fears were proven wrong as the play had me chuckling out loud throughout, rather than my usual cringe of second hand embarrassment at overzealous attempts at humour. Some particularly good drunk acting in the second half, combined with Willy Russell’s witty script (and an interval glass of wine) had us laughing so long and loud the people in front turned around to have a look.
Educating Rita is described as a play with ‘big ideas and an even bigger heart’ and as much as I try not to buy into hype the description is certainly apt. Warmth radiates from the production, from the cosy set design of Frank’s study to the lively Scouse accent of Gillian Kearney’s Rita. Kearney shines in her role, showing a comfort in the skin of her character. Philip Bretherton as Frank is a little less at home in his, but the earlier mentioned drunk acting showed he could certainly pull off comedy. The interaction between the two shows a genuine chemistry which makes their back and forth banter more intriguing than any great speeches.
Having only one very specific set could be seen as restricting, and towards the end of the first half I wondered how they would manage to keep the momentum going. The last scene or two before the interval almost began to head into a repetitive territory, though perhaps this was more a fault more of the play than the production. However a complete tonal shift in the dynamic between the two characters in the second half kept the audience involved and brought about a new emotional level to the play. The ideas of class-consciousness that had been set up off stage in the first act were deepened, and could even have made a more introspective audience member question their own subconscious.
The musical interludes of smooth jazz and eighties pop classics were a clever and enjoyable technique used by director Chris Honer to keep audience energy levels up between scene changes. It created a sense of time passing whilst giving a subtle insight into the characters and made me take a mental note to download the playlist.
The irony of reviewing a play about studying plays is not lost on me and it was a non-traumatic way to flash back to A-level English lessons. Students could certainly relate to the ideas of learning to define yourself when starting higher education and the opportunities and insecurities that appear in equal measure. However what makes Educating Rita so enjoyable is the way potentially intimidating issues are addressed with such a comforting blend of warmth and humour.
Four Stars out of Five Stars