Educating Rita ***

25Feb09

Citizens Theatre Production, Glasgow
Wednesday 11th February – Saturday 7th March 2009

At the Citizens Theatre this month Jeremy Raison directs a new, yet loyal, production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita. A comedy that will soon be thirty years old, and was immortalised in the 1983 film version, staring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. Yet, higher education in Britain has changed drastically over thirty years and the relevance of Russell’s play to modern audiences can easily be questioned. There is no denying that it is a much loved play and Russell’s created two incredibly witty, real characters, placing them in the Pygmalion-fable. However, the concept of a hairdresser in her twenties breaking out of her mundane life, to obtain a degree and discover herself, is far from extraordinary today.

Raison tries to tackle the period limitations, by removing the action from its iconic setting, and instead placing the story in the present, yet remaining in Liverpool. Emma Cunniffe portrays a young, wide-eyed Rita, reminding the audience that the play is not merely about class differences but the delights and tribulations of improving your understanding of the world. Charles Lawson takes on the role of alcoholic, disenchanted, Frank, choosing to focus on the character’s anger and his eventual demise. Unfortunately, this resulted in a lack of sexual chemistry between the two and caused the action to lose momentum towards the end of the piece.

The lack of satisfactory impact may also be due to the episodic nature of Russell’s play, which felt particularly uneasy in Raison’s production. Although the episodic technique is an important feature, used to tell the change in time in the story, it interrupted the intensity created by the two actors and the overall flow of the production. Nevertheless, Russell’s play still attracts attention and the humour in this production was much appreciated by its Glaswegian audience.

TF

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