- About us
- Through Time
by The Stage Dragon
The lineage of Educating Rita goes back via Bernard Shaw and the film My Fair Lady to the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion.
Willy Russell’s play follows the theme loosely. It is an endearing story of Russel’s own making, merely using the archetypal characters of teacher and student to craft a moving and charming journey of personal discovery for his protagonists.
Educating Rita features a working-class Liverpudlian hairdresser, Rita – later known as Susan (Claire Sweeney) who sets out to better herself through an Open University degree in English Literature with the help from an alcoholic university professor, Frank (Matthew Kelly). We see the growth and journeys of both characters, more notably from Sweeney, in particular in the second act.
It is easy to forget that there are only two actors involved in this well executed production. Both Matthew Kelly and Claire Sweeney use the space to their advantage, not once leaving the action static unintentionally – though sometimes careless in ensuring all the audience has good visibility.
They maintain a good pace throughout and both display a range of emotions, Kelly more consistently with shows of anger to desperation, delight to dismay. One scene in which Kelly is particularly outstanding is towards the end of the play – he shows true desperation at the potentially damaged friendship.
To begin with, Sweeney’s portrayal of Rita is exhausting; she is hyper, converses at the speed of light (which becomes grating towards the end of the first act) and has heightened emotions from beginning to end of act one. However, stick with it and you will come back after the interval to a much more developed, calm and ‘educated’ Rita. The progression shown by Sweeney is a delight to watch, allowing the audience to empathise further with her character for the duration of the second act.
The play is set over an academic year; this is depicted cleverly with 10-15 second pauses between scenes, where the lights are dimmed and either Kelly and/or Sweeney reset the stage – usually by moving a prop or changing a piece of costume. Accompanied by a lively soundtrack it is a refreshing use of technical direction from Tamara Harvey.
A smart design from Tim Shortall is the use of a cyclorama to show the annual cycle of a tree, which can be seen as the view out of Frank’s large office window. As the seasons pass, the tree gains and loses its leaves adding to the audience’s measurement of the passage of time.
On the whole, both Kelly and Sweeney successfully show growth in their characters and make Russell’s play a pleasure to watch, even provoking a few deserved standing ovations at the end. If you are able to, I would recommend spending an evening at the Yvonne Arnaud this week, before the show closes on Saturday 26th May.