Educating Rita - Theatre ☆☆☆☆☆5
Showing from - Thursday, June 16, 2016 through till Saturday, July 9, 2016
Hull Truck Theatre - Kingston-upon-Hull
Jackie Foottit | Tuesday, June 21, 2016
HE had me from the moment he ran his fingers through his floppy, silver hair.
Yes, the brilliant Simon Armstrong (or was it Richard Gere?) as world-weary, alcoholic, Open University tutor, Frank, reeled me in like a suicidal trout. I was his for the asking.
Of course, he never asked. The object of his interest was Liverpool lass, Susan, aka Rita (the equally brilliant Taj Atwal), a 26-year-old hairdresser, married, childless and utterly disenchanted with her uneducated existence.
Separated by culture and class, the pair meet as teacher - Frank, a world-weary, divorced drunkard - and pupil - Rita, an oh-so-eager-to-learn working class northerner.
He’s in it for the fee, she’s in it because she joined the Open University.
Thirst for Knowledge
The fantastic stage design of Frank’s dusty, airless, old study, crammed with books and hidden half-empty bottles of liquor, played its part in keeping us inside his booze-soaked bubble, while the equally fantastic script, by Willy Russell (still relevant today as when it premiered in 1980), let us imagine the world outside - to the hairdressers where Rita toils in boredom and frustration; to the kitchen where Frank’s partner Julia “always has her head in an oven”; to Rita’s home, dominated by a husband who can’t understand his wife’s thirst for knowledge.
Rita blows through Frank’s life, and study, like a breath of fresh air. At first, this failed poet resists and resents the intrusion into the boozy haze his life has become. Rita, totally single-minded in her mission to learn about literary greats such as Chekhov, Eliot and Lawrence, is relentless and won’t take no for an answer.
As the weekly tutorials wear on, the teacher and pupil dynamic changes – Rita becomes cocky, growing in confidence, while Frank seems to shrivel. She seems to suck all the energy and life out of him, as she soaks up knowledge like a sponge. He takes to the bottle, while she takes to a new, educated, circle of friends.
Lessons are learned on both sides, and attitudes changed.
Would it all end in tears? It nearly did for me in the final scene, when Rita’s hairdressing scissors moved menacingly towards Frank’s lovely locks. Luckily, the lights dimmed before the dreaded chop.
Locks aside, though, the real stars of the show were Simon Armstrong and Taj Atwal. They were simply outstanding. Just the two of them kept a packed Hull Truck audience entertained, nay, mesmerised, for more than two hours. Rita may have been educated, but so were we in the audience – this was a masterclass in acting.
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