27 July 2021

Educating Rita Review

Willy Russell's brilliant comedy, Educating Rita, continues to delight audiences as part of its 40th anniversary touring production which has arrived in Northampton at Royal and Derngate.


A two-hander set all in one room introduces us to two tremendously written characters. There's Frank, a frustrated poet a tutor and a drunkard. He professes to disliking his students and says he only teaches as it allows him to continue his drinking habits. Then there's Rita, a working class hairdresser and Frank's latest student, who wants to learn all about literary classics and broaden her horizons. 


Stephen Tompkinson as Frank and Jessica Johnson as Rita. Photo by Nobby Clark.

The play is told through various scenes with time passing between each. The scene changes often allow for Rita to change into a different outfit whilst Frank remains unchanged.  As the play goes on the relationship between the pair becomes rocky, especially as Frank is continually consumed by the drink and as Rita becomes a little busier to attend the sessions.


What makes this production are the two magnificent performances of these characters. Stephen Tompkinson captures the frustration and the lostness of Frank being consumed by his drinking habits with such skill. He portrays the strain and frustration but also opens up so you his heart and how much he wants good for Rita - Frank often telling her she's wasting her time or that she'd be better off without.


Matching Stephen's Frank is Jessica Johnson, she is quite brilliant from the get go. Her boundless energy in the early encounters where Rita doesn't allow for Frank to get a word in and throughout she is perfectly cast here. Jessica captures Rita's journey and transformation from the uneducated hairdresser to academic student by the end with real quality. 


Jessica Johnson as Rita. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Stephen and Jessica's own real life relationship allows for the pair's ease with each other on the stage, they have tremendous chemistry and bounce off each other with enhances how they play the relationship of the two characters. 


Patrick Connellan's design features a study with full bookcases, with each shelf hiding a bottle or four. It's well thought out with plenty of lovely details and transports the audience into the room itself. Clever effective design but spare a thought for the stage hands who have to put all the books back at the end of each performance!


This timeless piece continues to delight audiences, I overheard the ladies on the row behind discussing how they should go away and watch the film adaptation and another lady a couple of seats away exclaimed to her friend it was "the best play she'd ever seen". After the period of time away it's great to hear laughter in a non-distanced audience in the Derngate again and this timeless comedy delivers plenty of laughter along the way.


Rating - ★★★★★ two outstanding performances light up this classic comedy.


Educating Rita runs at Royal and Derngate until Saturday 31st July. For tickets head to www.royalandderngate.co.uk The show is touring thereafter, for full dates visit https://www.educatingrita.co.uk/


Stephen Tompkinson as Frank. Photo by Nobby Clark

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