(reviewed at the Little Theatre, Sheringham on 21 July)
Willy Russell’s two-hander, about a hairdresser and her (reluctant) Open University tutor is deceptively simple at first glance. Rita starts off all brass and attitude; you’d think that Frank has a point in feeling that this is all a waste of her time and his. But who is educating who? And for what?
Like Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, Educating Rita explores where education as a pursuit of knowledge in its own right comes slap up against the requirement to pass examinations. Perhaps it’s because I recently saw a production of The History Boys that the parallel struck me as it hadn’t done before.
Desmond Barrit’s production is dominated by Melissa Clements’ incandescent Rita, bursting into Frank’s study in a whirl of scarlet with jingly earrings and a voice fit to split logs. Paul Lavers as Frank has to work hard to equal the balance as our sympathies veer from one character to another – and back again – as this East End butterfly learns how to escape from her cocoon.
Frank, of course, is his own worst enemy, relying on copious draughts of scotch and varying layers of female support to get through what has become a dead-end job. The sequence of short scenes is punctuated by minimal pauses indicated by lighting changes; the excellent design (as for all the plays in this summer repertory season at the Little Theatre) is by Kees Van Woerkom.
Educating Rita runs at the Little Theatre, Sheringham until 28 July. The summer weekly repertory season continues until 5 September.