“Educating Rita” by Willy Russell
This joint production between Derby Theatre and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton is the story of self-discovery through education. Rita is a young, married hairdresser who has decided that she wants more from life. She wants to take the reins of her life, to better herself and get an education.
Frank is a tutor who also has dreams. He dreams of being a poet, unfulfilled by his teaching undergraduate English students, seeking solace in the bottom of a glass. They inspire each other to look to what they both want out of life. They are opposites who attract, forming an unlikely bond through education.
This production is just over two hours of humour, pathos and thought provoking dialogue with the majority of the two hours in the first part. The parting shot of the play was an absolute joy of misconstrued expectation on the part of Frank.
David Birrell (Frank) and Jessica Baglow (Rita) bounce off each other well and as Rita is who the play is named after, she gets the lion’s share of the best lines from Russell. It’s not easy watching the play without recalling Julie Walters who, of course, played the original Rita on stage in 1980 and in the 1983 film with Michael Caine as Frank. Both Birrell and Baglow though succeed in making the parts theirs.
By the end of the play the two characters roles have almost reversed with Frank being the repressed one and Rita being the empowered one.
The set, designed by Ciaran Bagnall, who also designed the lighting,was eye catching with bookcases that were elevated to the top of the set.
There was a part of the play that had a soundscape of rain (Ben Occhipinti), but that wasn't enough for this production, oh no, the rain cascaded down the giant windows.
Directed by Elizabeth Norman, was pacy, but where there were spaces without dialogue, there were there for a purpose to give effect and space to the play.
The play stands up well in today’s arena especially when you look at the cost of education at University nowadays and the option as to whether seeking further education will actually further your chances in life.
A Willy Russell classic which has stood the test of time and serves to be an entertaining evening of fun and lyrical cleverness.
“Educating Rita” is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 11 March 2017.