Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 18 September 2021.
The 41-year old play has lost none of its power as it has been revived and brought to Newcastle for the final leg of a UK Tour. Starring two of the regions leading actors, it raises issues about cultural capital that still resonate today.
Of course the Royal Shakespeare Company's commission, written by Willy Russel was adapted by Russell for a 1983 film with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. However this was, first and foremost, a two hander play situated in the office of a university lecturer.
Stephen Tompkinson appears as Frank, a university lecturer of English Literature, with a drink problem. The show opens with him trying to remember which books hide the bottle of scotch that will provide his next drink. He is staying late tonight as he needs extra income in order to fund his alcohol habit. Such funds are going to be raised by tutoring an Open University student. When she arrives the new undergraduate is clearly from a different background to his usual cohort. This is not someone full of self-confidence bordering on arrogance. This is going to be someone who reads mass circulation fiction and who has never been to the theatre. In short, there is a large cultural gap.
But that is not to suggest that Susan, who wants to be known at Rita, is not keen to learn. She may be a hairdresser but she is desperate to level up her knowledge and understanding to that of the "regular" students so that she passes exams. Alas her initial impression of classic fiction is that it is "crap". However she is able to persuade Frank to take her on.
Jessica Johnson does a fantastic job of conveying the circumstance of a working class wife who has an unsupportive husband with a degree of Northern working class humour. The emotions in a scene can quickly change from laughs, due to the flippant answers to her work, to compassion, as she explores life beyond the office walls with adroit flexibility. Russell's writing gives both characters a three dimensional aspect that quickly makes the audience root for them.
This is a perfect marriage between well written and poignant material with two highly respected actors who have always added an element of class in any production that we have seen them in. Director Max Roberts, formally of Live Theatre, appears to have kept a light hand on the tiller in allowing these two performers explore the material. The show runs for 90 minutes without interval and this helps keep the momentum flowing.
We have been awaiting a chance to catch this show and it did not disappoint.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Nobby Clark
Educating Rita plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 13 – Saturday 18 September 2021. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).