*I went to see Educating Rita with press tickets from the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
Educating Rita has come to the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton this week bringing laughter and tears along with it. The play centres around only two actors; it’s a small production with one setting but what it lacks in a large cast and revolving set, it makes up for in charm and humility.
The story focuses on Frank and Susan, or Rita as she prefers to be called for the first half of the play, Frank is a drunken university lecturer who also happens to be a bitter failed writer boozing his way through his sorrow and self pity, whereas Rita couldn’t be more of the opposite. She’s curious, optimistic, happy and chatty. She could make conversation out of a plank of wood, she’s charismatic and determined, but most of all, she’s humble and down to earth: one of the people- and this is what makes her so likeable.
Rita is also an incredibly relatable character, she talks about feeling pressure in school to not do well and also pressure in her day to day life to stay the same and not try to better herself, she talks about how uncomfortable she is at the university, not because she’s lower class, but because she isn’t book smart where she’d like to be. She’s witty and funny and her naivety at the beginning of the play is what draws Frank into her.
Throughout the play you see Frank and Rita’s relationship evolve from student/teacher to close friends who care about each other, even though you could argue throughout the entire play that Frank’s feelings towards Rita are more than just that of friendship. He tells Rita more than once that he’s sexually attracted to her but she plays it off as friendly banter, telling him to calm down.
Educating Rita dives in and deals with many different hot topics from feeling trapped at home and being in a controlling relationship, to having a one-sided love which you can only dream about. Rita talks about her partner throughout the entire play who aims to stop her schooling and have her be her usual self, stuck at the hair dressers and preferably pregnant. Rita wants more out of life than a hair dressing job and a baby: she wants to learn. After all, she’s only twenty nine.
As I watched the play unfold, I couldn’t help but admire Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson, their chemistry is undeniable and they work on stage like they’ve worked together their whole lives, they bounce off each other and the contrast in their characters works well, it’s a great thing to watch throughout the duration of the play.
Educating Rita has easily become my favourite play that I’ve seen at the theatre, it’s humble and authentic, it deals with many societal issues whilst not diverging away from the plot, you’re rooting for Rita to do well whilst hoping that Frank will stop the boozing and maybe start his tutorial one day talking of how well he’s doing for a change. The writing of Willy Russell is simply amazing, the dialogue throughout the play is down to earth whilst showcasing how well educated Frank is, and how eventually well educated Rita has become, but also, keeping her tone and aura that of her chatty happy scouse self.
This is the first two-man play that I’ve seen, but it works tremendously well. Frank rarely leaves the stage, often naturally setting up the next scene throughout darkened intervals, Rita is almost always bursting through his office door as the next scene begins, being loud and excited but eventually as the pair drift apart, shyly and warily entering the office as if the pair were never really that close at all.
The play itself grows and evolves through Rita, she starts off in mismatched outfits and confidently speaking about her every day life, she wears the same fur coat throughout the first few scenes which take course over a few weeks, but eventually you begin to see that as she has made new friends and has become more well educated, she starts to dress more like her presumably younger student friends, entering the stage in hipster fashion such as overalls and mom jeans. I could clearly see how Rita had changed and become more confident within herself – but this change is most notable after she attends Summer school which happens during the interval, she bursts on the stage for the first time wearing her bright yellow dungarees and a pair of flat doc martens, you can already see she is a new Rita through the subtlety of her clothes.
Frank remains the same throughout the entire play, only becoming more saddened by the fact that Rita, as she has begun to understand the world of literature, no longer admires him with wide eye anticipation, she is on his level, she understands what he’s talking about and has found new people to have the same discussions with, he’s losing the light that bursts through his door every week and he becomes more unbearable, more drunk and more fed up with himself and with Rita. His internal struggles showing as within each scene, he drinks more and more.
Educating Rita is moving, uplifting, motivating and overall: relevant. It’s been thirty six years since Rita and Frank first made their appearances on screen, and translated to the stage with a modern twist it still works, it’s still a fun, relatable watch and I highly recommend you see this play.