Educating Rita – Gaiety Theatre – Review
21 March 2017 – 25 March 2017
Lyric Theatre Belfast presents Educating Rita By Willy Russell
Directed by Emma Jordan; Starring Michael James Ford and Kerri Quinn
Frank is a college lecturer who has a problem with the demon drink. He was once a young poet with much potential but as the years have gone by he has lost the will to write and has instead fallen into the bottle. He encounters the young and irreverent Rita while he is teaching an Open University course to try and make some extra money. Rita is a hairdresser and has no formal education, but dreams of a better life. Frank sees something in her that he admires and goes beyond the call of duty to help her on her path.
This production of Educating Rita opened at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast in February of last year. It is now touring Ireland and is at the Gaiety Theatre this week. The play is well known for the 1983 film adaptation starring Michael Caine, which helped launch the film career of Julie Walters. This production has changed the setting from Liverpool to Belfast in the 1980s, with the troubles rumbling on in the periphery although not directly affecting the storyline.
The play focuses on the weekly meetings the two have, which are ostensibly to discuss literature, but instead cover all elements of their lives. They move from discussions on Ibsen and Chekov to the problems Rita is having with her husband or in the hairdressers. The set by Stuart Marshall recreates the office of a dotty English professor, with books from floor to ceiling and a desk at one side of the stage.
The story is remarkably straightforward in one sense, with no obvious twists or turns. You can guess the Pygmalion style storyline from the early moments and it rarely veers off course. Where the play gets its depth is in the characters and the quality of the acting. Michael James Ford plays Frank as a man holding it together on the surface, but just underneath is a deep sadness and loneliness. The innocence and purity of Rita briefly snaps him out of his lethargy, only to be engulfed once more. Kerri Quinn as Rita has a much more dramatic part with a transformation that is visible to all. The most engaging thing about her performance is her energy and passion, especially in the early scenes. This is a production that does not over emphasise the humour, but instead shows something else, a brief moment where two stars align before continuing on their path.