Educating Rita. Presented by The Court Theatre. Directed by Yvonne Martin. The Court Theatre. 28 May – 25 June, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.
Willy Russell’s Educating Rita is a humorous insight into relationships, transformation and choice for both of the characters in this play.
George Henare’s Frank is a grumpy, yet delightful, academic who, initially grudgingly, takes Rita on a literary journey through The Open University. Rather than being at home enjoying a lamb cassoulet, he’s at work earning extra cash to fund his pints at the pub.
And into his life walks Rita. We watch her (Kathleen Burns) grow from a hairdresser who’s enthusiastic about learning (“I want to know everything!”) and loves the book Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, to a woman who’s “dead” passionate about literature and having lively debates with other students. You could almost say it’s the 1980s version of My Fair Lady. Almost.
As the play develops, so too do the characters. Not just how Rita dresses, talks, and behaves, but from an unhappy home life to contentment in her realisation of self. And Frank’s drinking, poetry, mood and private life all receive an overhaul, not always for the better.
At times, the script is extremely wordy, but the repartee between the two is so natural, it’s like the audience is eavesdropping on a conversation and relationship between a tutor and his student.
The direction, and the active stage made the funny, lively script even more fascinating. Light was used effectively to depict changes in time and the cast did well to remember all the different scenes, costume changes, and props, as they were aplenty. The set is an absolute marvel with its accurate representation of a literature tutor’s office – full of books, papers, ‘stuff’, and with or without the stashed liquor.
Burns is a stand-out in this role. She’s a true young talent, with an enticing, energetic presence. And Henare is charming, sincere, and witty, and together they breathe contemporary life into this 1980 Russell play.