One of my goals for the new year was to go and see more plays – ask me anything about musical theatre and I’ll probably know the answer but plays are a different story. I can really only think of two plays I’ve ever seen and based on that knowledge it’s hardly surprising I’d actually never heard of Educating Rita before I got my ticket to see it at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre. Educating Rita is the story of Rita, a hairdresser who is adamant she needs to break out of her working class lifestyle, learn about the world and ‘find herself’. This brings her into the path of Frank, an Open University tutor who survives on the multitude of bottles of whisky hidden behind his bookshelves and his constant desire to reject himself.
To begin with, I was fairly skeptical about the show – how on earth could it be interesting for two hours with only two cast members? I felt as if the show took quite a while to get going, the first part seemed fairly repetitive with Rita continuously demanding she wants to ‘know everything’ and Frank attempting to tell her this is far easier said than done. But in the second act the show really comes into its own; I felt far more emotionally connected to the characters, my sympathy switched between both Frank and Rita throughout and I found it very hard to try and pick who’s side I was on! I also loved how the language of the two characters was so contrasting – both between Frank and Rita in the first act and the way in which Rita’s language changes as she becomes more ‘educated’ in the second.
The two cast members carried the show with ease. Dougal Lee gives a solid performance as Frank; I loved how he portrayed the contrasting sides of his character and began to change as his friendship with Rita grew. But from the moment she enters Samantha Robinson shines as Rita, her performance is hilarious, heartfelt and incredibly moving in places. Again, I loved how the character’s personality changes to become more ‘educated’ in the second act and to see Frank’s reaction to this, and how Rita learns to accept herself. I definitely had a lump in my throat by the end!
Staging was simple but really lovely, consisting of a large bookshelf and a few light up pictures. There was also a big backdrop which changed colour to signify the different times of day. The simplicity of the staging was really nice and I was very impressed with a lot of Rita’s quick changes – I’d definitely like to have that many outfits! Scenes were transitioned very cleverly with the sky backdrop (or a change in Rita’s outfit!) usually signifying a new day.
I left wondering one thing: does this count as revision? Though I’m not learning about Macbeth or William Blake, I did find myself being very interested about the meaning of assonance (getting the rhyme wrong, according to Rita). All in all a good, well produced local production – I can’t fault the cast but I just wasn’t overly fond of the story.
Educating Rita is part of the Mercury Theatre’s ‘Made In Colchester’ season and is playing until 14th March.