ACT Theatre Reviews 2021-2022

EDUCATING RITA by Willy Russell Directed by Simon Darlington APeel Drama Group This 1980s Pygmalion like story of a working-class Scouse hairdresser and a disillusioned “Eng. Lit.” tutor ages like a fine wine. A very workable book-lined study set gave a reality to the drama, All the props looked part of the “old-soak” professor’s life and the costumes captured the era of the play’s setting, especially Rita’s as she enters a life in academia. The direction absolutely captured Margaret Thatcher’s 80s Britain with its class snobbery and education values. The comedy in this production was not over egged and it allowed the ebb and flow of the sleek script to flow unhindered. The relationship of Frank and Rita was truthfully explored resulting in spirited performances. The incidental music was fitting to the piece. Geoff Millard played the jaded university professor having to take on a part-time student to help fund his drinking. Geoff brought out all the contempt Frank now has for his work: a man defeated by disappointment. It is the refreshingly honest Rita that gives him some hope which was captured in Geoff ’s portrayal. All the drinking, and the hidden booze, was naturally conveyed. The drunken entrance, with the sticking door, was drunkenly delivered. Drunken scenes can soon become over acted but not in this production. The Open University student, Rita, was skilfully portrayed by Lisa Barlow. Accents are always difficult. It is finding the right level so that the words are not smothered by the accent. Lisa pitched it just right allowing the words to come across with enough musicality of the Liverpudlian accent to come through. Lisa captured the transformation from Rita, the hairdresser, to Rita, the academic with ease. Liverpool is noted for its comedy. Scousers are natural comedians with a seemingly innate ability to make something unfunny funny. Lisa delivered the lines and allowed the audience to find it funny; timing was everything. This odd couple, with the dynamics between them with all its sharp edges, developed such chemistry. Geoff and Lisa took the audience through their respective character’s complicated lives. No matter how close they got to each other there was always a distance between Frank and Rita. This facet of the play was interestingly developed. It was most notable from the pitch and pace that was set, right from their first entrances that excellent characterisations were created. This production made it easy to understand why this play is still popular and revived on the professional stage.

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