Review: Educating Rita

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.

TRIBES: Stop Arguing. Start Talking.

Anyone who thought they had a dysfunctional family will eat their words once they see TRIBES.

Written brilliantly by Nina Raine and performed by a mere cast of six under the excellent direction of Shane Bosher, TRIBES is a compelling and poignant play that will change your perspective on what it really means to communicate.

Billy’s family are eccentric, egotistical and bring dysfunction to a whole new level.  As soon as the lights come on what starts off as a seemingly normal family dinner quickly turns into a heated family feud – brother is arguing with father, sister is harassing brother, mother is yelling at father…it’s probably not even in that order, the point is everyone is bickering with someone.

We soon find out that this is perfectly normal behavior in this household.  There is one member of the family though that is a quiet spectator to this chaos – Billy.  Born deaf, he has learned to adapt exceptionally well to his family’s many idiosyncrasies and quarrelsome ways.  Billy skillfully lip reads and was taught how to speak because Billy’s parents did not want him to be defined by his inability to hear and wanted to give him as normal an upbringing as possible.

The family are clearly very set in their ways but their bubble of complacency is popped when Sylvia comes into the picture.  She encourages Billy to embrace the deaf community and this opens up a whole new world to him, one he had not known existed.  One his family had inadvertently sheltered him from.  He learns sign language to better communicate with Sylvia and eventually instills a vow of silence towards his family until they learn to sign too.

Like a fly on the wall, we watch on as this family unravels and come to grips with Billy’s new attitude towards being deaf.  The journey is far from a smooth one as Billy struggles to be heard and understood in a household where people rarely listen.

TRIBES is simply superb and an absolute triumph.  There will be plenty of funny moments that will have you laughing but there will also be the times of heartbreak where you may shed a tear or two (I know I did!).  It is highly engaging, incredibly entertaining and delivers a powerful and inspiring message about family, love and life.  The narrative is paced well and flows seamlessly from scene to scene; I also loved the way the set was utilized and the way music and select subtitles were used to drive the story.

I was completely blown away by the cast who were all just outstanding!  Leon Wadham impressed me the most; his heartfelt and very believable portrayal of Billy was remarkable and so moving.  Emmett Skilton (Daniel) and Jodie Hillock (Sylvia) were other standouts for me; they captured the heart of their characters perfectly and delivered such excellent and emotive performances.

While they were all fantastic individually, it is the scenes where everyone was on stage together where I felt the magic really happened.  The cast have an undeniable chemistry with each other which is evident in the way they effortlessly play off one another, particularly during the many arguments that take place.

There is still time to see this fantastic Silo Theatre production and I strongly recommend that you do because it is an unmissable experience!

The Whimsical Banana rates TRIBES: 5/5 bananas!

Engaging, thought-provoking and just bloody brilliant!

TRIBES is playing at the Maidment Theatre until the 30th of June.  For more information and to purchase tickets, go HERE.