Educating Rita – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

Writer: Willy Russell

Director: Max Roberts

Designer: Patrick Connellan

There’s an undeniable affection for Willy Russell’s 40-year-old, Pygmalion-like drama Educating Rita, from the great British theatre-going public. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and staged at what is now the Donmar Warehouse, it saw a much-loved and much-lauded film adaptation in 1983 starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

The story of 26-year-old, married, Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita (actually Susan) and her foray into the world of academia on an Open University course, and her tutor Frank, a career academic faded and jaded by university life, seeking solace in drink, this OU tutorship paying nicely for his alcoholic fix. Each feeds from the other: Rita’s world expands as she is exposed to the bohemian lifestyle of the students and Frank is energised by Rita’s lust for life. Each shines a light on the other: some truths are exposed, some assumptions shattered and inevitably, both Rita and Frank undergo changes, not necessarily for the better.

Four decades on (admittedly with a bit of updating from Russell himself for the 21st Century and this 40th anniversary tour) it still feels relevant, maybe depressingly so. Is it really still as hard for working class women, or those living in poverty to better themselves as it was in 1980? The ‘them and us’ world so prevalent then, is frighteningly familiar today.

Jessica Johnson and Stephen Tompkinson reprise their roles from the last national tour. Tompkinson’s natural hang-dog expression is perfectly suited to the world-weary Frank and he has time and time again proved himself to be one of the country’s most adept stage actors. Johnson’s Rita (Susan) is hugely likeable but her accent wavers frequently and her projection is such that it leaves you straining to hear much of her dialogue. That said, it is deservedly a British theatre classic, and still well worth watching.

Runs until 29 February 2020 | Image: Robert Day

The Reviews Hub Score

A British theatre classic, still well worth watching

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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One Comment

  1. Okay I’ve seen this play twice in my life and maybe twice on film. If you are going to act in the old way you have to have stagecraft and a voice that can be heard beyond the first 10 rows. The lead actor was superb . He is a good actor, not too handsome but very believable in all roles I’ve seen him in. This is the first stage production I’ve seen him in and his diction and voice could be heard always.
    NOW FOR RITA,, I have the feeling she’d do well on film and TV. She is not however a stage artist. No body LANGUAGE THAT SHOWED HOW She felt. In n fact she was unbelievable physically and emotionally as a girl from the dumps aspiring higher.
    She was not Rita to my mind. If we have to pay money for theatre tickets with no Microphones or internet visuals or vocal help at
    least give us actors who can act and send their voices to the back stalls. Every primary school teacher can get children aged 5 to do this in every Nativity at Christmas. A Wonderful play spoiled by a very poor Rita. Sorry.

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