Review: Educating Rita at the Wolverhampton Grand

Writer: Willy Russell

Director: Max Roberts

Willy Russell has a knack for exploring the class system and shining a light on the struggles of the working class. This latest production of Educating Rita that’s touring the country is no different and shows while the education system in the UK has adapted over time, this play remains evermore prominent by reflecting the barriers and struggles people have to overcome to better themselves.

Set within Frank’s office, the walls are full of books. However, hiding behind them are empty bottles hidden from view until the end of the play. It’s a brilliant metaphor for how beneath his highly educated exterior, he is no different to Rita and has his own barriers in life and he is by no means the perfect individual that Rita may expect him to be at the start.

Stephen Tompkinson is a witty but dry Frank. He’s passing the days making a living by being a lecturer after being a failed poet and it’s only when Rita comes into his life does he start to slowly enjoy the time they have together. On the opposite end of the class system is Rita, a hairdresser who knows she’s trapped by the system but tries to better herself by enrolling herself on an English Literature course.

Russell’s script is somewhat autobiographical and shows the struggles he went through to become a writer and while it may contain references of famous playwrights and poets, his script is much more relatable and understandable which means it doesn’t matter your literature background, you’ll appreciate the play regardless.  These are characters that anyone can relate too and sympathise with.

Jessica Johnson as Rita is a natural at holding the room. As soon as she enters she lightens up the tone with her drive to learn and succeed. At the same time, you can’t help but see the more timid side she’s trying to hide. Johnson develops the character into a well-educated scholar, far more comfortable with who she becomes which Johnson fully embodies from changes in voice and movement.

Tompkinson and Johnson have great chemistry together. Director Max Roberts steers clear of love and instead focusses on the characters fondness with each other and the friendship they have with each other. It makes their relationship much more believable and allows the two actors to bounce off each other and create some incredible, tight naturalistic rhythm. 

Educating Rita is a bittersweet life-affirming play that remains ever more prominent. It’s a fiery comedy exploring confidence, being trapped in a system but most importantly how to grasp life and better yourself. The strong casting of this production makes is engaging and entertaining watch as you appreciate the challenges each of the characters face.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

5money*A complimentary ticket was given in exchange for this review. This value for money rating is based on the ticket price value of £32.50* + £3.00 Booking Fee. For more info on this value for money rating please visit here: Introducing a new kind of rating

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