Rose Theatre, Kingston
This wonderfully warm production reveals a play that still feels as though it has plenty of relevance today.
Forty years on since it was first performed, Willy Russell’s play still feels as warm and memorable thanks to Max Roberts’ sensitive and thoughtful production, that really captures the two central character’s relationship well.
Following the relationship between Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita (whose actual name is Susan) who has passion for learning and wants to improve herself and Frank – a university lecturer whose insecurities emerge through his dependance on alcohol. As the play unfolds, the audience sees how both help improve each other’s state of mind and attitude towards life.
Educating Rita’s gentle comedy perhaps might be too subtle for some, but thanks to Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson’s performances there does seem to be a sharper edge to it that keeps the play feeling relevant as the characters discuss class and education among other things that keep the audience engaged.
Thanks to Patrick Connellan’s cosy and book filled set design, gorgeously lit by Drummond Orr, the whole production manages to feel wonderfully intimate even when it is presented in this socially distanced way.
Johnson as Rita offers a particularly warm performance, capturing her character’s sharpness of mind and unique perceptiveness that helps to transform Frank’s own outlook on life. In contrast, Tompkinson captures Frank’s snobbery and disdain with subtlety ensuring that the audience sees that his insecurity towards his own writing and abilities lies at the root of his attitude. Together, their growing relationship is natural and believable, particularly as the drama between them builds making the ending feel particularly poignant.
Roberts has created a production that is filled with plenty of humour, affection and intelligence that really captures the spirit of Willy Russell’s play – even in these socially distanced times. An immensely enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes.
By Emma Clarendon