Theatre has really evolved, especially in recent years. These days most productions use visual and audio spectacle and employ innovative and sometimes unconventional ways to tell the story to the audience. At the preview night of Educating Rita I was reminded that sometimes going back to the basics and keeping it simple can be just as entertaining and equally as effective.
Written by British playwright Willy Russell and under the skillful direction of Adey Ramsel, Educating Rita is Newmarket Stage Company’s debut production and is truly an enjoyable watch. As soon as you take your seat, your eyes are immediately drawn to the set. The story plays out entirely in a university office in 1980’s England. Messy and filled with old furniture and shelves of all sizes (which we soon learn holds more than just books!), you really do get a dusty and lived-in sense amiss the organized chaos.
George Henare, theatre veteran who needs no introduction, plays the cynical and disillusioned tutor Dr Frank Bryant while Jodie Hillock, who was most recently in Silo Theatre’s TRIBES*, plays Rita, the bubbly and ambitious student who will not take no for an answer. Rita has an unbridled eagerness to learn which does not sit well with the world-weary Frank who has lost his thirst for knowledge and passion for teaching.
*You can read my review of TRIBES here.
A failed poet (or so he thinks) and struggling alcoholic, Frank is initially ever so slightly annoyed but mostly bemused by Rita’s endless energy and curiosity but with each lesson she slowly begins to win him over. In the first act, we see Frank (albeit somewhat reluctantly) teach Rita to appreciate the finer things in life; he is very much a wealth of knowledge and he even gets persuaded into taking Rita to the theatre for the first time. There is a clear shift in the second act. Having gone away for the summer, Rita has returned more exposed and educated and soon the student becomes the teacher as she begins to teach Frank a thing or two.
I really enjoyed watching the bond between the two characters grow and blossom throughout the play. This really allowed George and Jodie to showcase their acting range. As Rita’s knowledge increases the gap between the two individuals diminishes and soon their relationship becomes very much that of peers. When Frank invites Rita over for dinner, while Rita is concerned that she will appear inferior next to the other guests, Frank really only just wanted her there for her company. Similarly when Frank’s alcoholism begins to take over and it looks like he is about to be engulfed by his insecurities and loneliness, it is Rita who has his back.
The cluttered set coupled with George and Jodie’s compelling stage presence marry well to fill the space and effortlessly hold your attention from start to finish. Their passionate performances of their characters are a joy to watch – George’s excellent facial expressions bring a welcome element of comedy into the story and Jodie embodies the carefree and playful Rita perfectly. I also thought her command of the accent was impressive and very believable.
Educating Rita is heartwarming, witty and an incredibly entertaining “feel good” theatrical production. It talks about friendship, self-discovery, freedom and what it means to be happy – something we all can relate to.
The Whimsical Banana rates Educating Rita: 4/5 bananas!
I am already looking forward to the next production!
Newmarket Stage Company’s Educating Rita plays at the tiny but cozy Factory Theatre in Newmarket until the 8th September. For more information and tickets, click here.