Review: Educating Rita

Matthew Kelly and Claire Sweeney in Educating Rita
Matthew Kelly and Claire Sweeney in Educating Rita
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Alhambra, Bradford

First produced in 1980, this is Willy Russell’s take on Pygmalion. The story centres around Frank, a tutor of English whose disillusioned outlook on life drives him to the bottle. Rita is a hairdresser hungry to find some meaning to life. With Frank as her tutor, Rita embarks on an Open University course and her education process begins.

The effects are both amusing and serious as her fresh, intuitive approach becomes clouded and stifled as she grapples with the problems of a formal education, while Frank also learns something – to believe in himself again.

Tamara Harvey’s production has pace and attack and is beautifully staged. With dozens of short scenes, the passage of time is handled exceptionally well using lighting and music.

As Frank the disillusioned academic, Matthew Kelly shows what a brilliant actor he is, handling the changing emotions and quick pace with ease. Claire Sweeney has come a long way as an actress since her days in Brookside and as the feisty, eager-to-learn Rita she is so at ease and displays just the right amount of brashness. Both Kelly and Sweeney have impeccable comedy timing which is necessary to get the most of out of the one-liners that pepper the play.

Educating Rita is a piece of classic theatre with superb humour and also a reflection of the social history of the 80’s. It is well worth making the effort to see it.

To June 30.