By Willy Russell. Christine Harris and HIT Productions. The Q Theatre. 26 Oct 2016
A higher education can open doors to worlds of possibilities and opportunities for anyone, but for people of lower socio-economic status it can dramatically change the trajectory of one’s life.
However, in the quest for a better life it could be tempting to dismiss one’s own lived experience to date as inferior, and present as a blank slate in order to allow new and supposedly superior knowledge and ways to be imprinted on one’s psyche.
Educating Rita is the story of a plucky young woman from 1980s Liverpool, whose thirst for learning and self-improvement leads her to shed her working class skin, and with it part of her uniqueness, to break free from the restrictions imposed by her station in life.
Rita (Francesca Bianchi) is a bright but dissatisfied hairdresser who joins the Open University programme at an English university to study poetry. Her assigned tutor is Frank (Colin Moody), who is a burnt out, cynical academic whose ambitions as a poet never quite came to fruition.
Despite their respective differences, it turns out they have much to offer each; Rita’s frankness and passion inspires and energises Frank, while Frank’s hefty intellect feeds Rita’s hunger for learning. A strong connection is forged over the course of a year, and the two embark on a journey that falters when the student begins to outgrow the teacher.
Like the written works recited throughout the play, the script itself for Educating Rita develops into its own work of poetry. As the bond between Rita and Frank deepens, and as Rita’s thinking matures and refines, the gripping, eloquent dialogue also takes on a higher level of complexity and meaning that can be interpreted on various levels.
Bianchi as Rita is a force to be reckoned with and a joy to behold, bringing a perfectly synthesised blend of vulnerability and fearlessness to her role. She pulls off an impressive Liverpudlian accent, and uses it to great effect – managing to avoid the pitfall of this type of character becoming a dehumanised caricature.
Moody also nails his interpretation of Frank, showcasing his talent as an impressively intuitive and nuanced performer. The intellectual fireworks between he and Bianchi are glorious, and together they provide some truly moving, unforgettable moments of theatre.
With every scene being set in the same room, the upbeat 1980s musical interludes are especially nice touches that work well to give some breathing room to the performers during each change, but also to provide a lively and era-appropriate ambience.
Overall, this production of Educating Rita has clearly set a high bar for itself and succeeds in going on to meet these lofty standards. Theatre itself is such a wonderful opportunity for learning and self-development, and one is definitely guaranteed to glean some wisdom from this pearl.
When: 26 to 29 Oct
Where: The Q Theatre