EDUCATING RITA Two-act comedy by Willy Russell. Directed by Lynn Moss. Presented by Claremont Dramatic Society. Masque Theatre.

Educating Rita

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

Educating Rita, English playwright Willy Russell’s two-act comedy, scored its first success at London’s Donmar Warehouse in June 1980. Three years later, on the silver screen employing an embroidered script, Educating Rita found international fame starring Julie Walters (now Dame) as Rita and Michael Caine (now Sir) as Frank.

This two-hander tells how, at 26, Rita White – real name Susan but thinks Rita sounds more learned –  yearns to “know everything.”  Liverpudlian Rita (Jaime Uranovsky) is a hairdresser. Married to Denny, her husband wants her to have a baby. She doesn’t feel ready to care for someone else when she doesn’t know who she herself is. So secretly she continues taking The Pill and enrolls at the Open University for a literary degree. Her tutor is Frank, a cynical alcoholic and failed poet (Nick Plummer).

Set in Frank’s book-lined study, as characters Rita and Frank couldn’t be more disparate. He is bored by education. She aspires to it. Yet there is an immediate chemical connection between these two lost souls. Rita, a gabbling extrovert responds to Frank’s tutorials with funny, snappy, homespun, unconventional logic. Logic that simultaneously irritates, and fascinates dry, depressed, alcoholic, middle-aged Frank.

How class systems can suppress growth

Educating Rita

Over a year, in a theme similar to Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Educating Rita exposes how prevailing class systems can impede personal desire for intellectual growth. It also shows up how Rita’s educated conversation causes rifts between family and peers, happy to spend spare time in a pub.  However, her Liverpudlian accent and working class background prove awkward breaking into the upper educated classes.

Uranovsky’s Rita is a gem. In this most demanding role, over the 14 scenes, and numerous costume changes, Uranovsky never lets her characterisation slip as a bright young woman searching to fulfil her true self. Often holding centre stage for a long bubbling soliloquy, her only fault lay when her accent overclouded her diction. To ears unused to that way of speaking some words were indistinct.  Thanks to Lynn Moss’s tight direction, Uranovsky’s constant chatter and perpetual motion never disturbed, and she guided Uranovsky into a top-rate portrait.

There is only one Professor Henry Higgins, and he’s in Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion and Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical My Fair Lady. Other authors storytelling a tutor educating a hungry-to-learn pupil are really using a copy-cat subject. Such is the case with Russell’s Frank – a dubbed down version of Professor Higgins.

Having watched Plummer’s outstanding CATA award winning Professor Higgins performance in G&S’s 2016 My Fair Lady, it’s difficult not to compare his two interpretations. But, comparisons are grossly unfair.  Plummer gave his best. Moss is a skilled and talented director. Through her, Plummer and Uranovsky brought out the poignancy, humour, romance and entertainment Willy Russell intended in Educating Rita.

What: Educating Rita

Where and when: Masque Theatre until 23 February 2019

Book: Computicket

WS