Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Educating Rita - Watermill Theatre

Educating Rita
Writer: Willy Russell
Director: Jamie Glover
Reviewer: Jim Nicholson

I often wonder why the Watermill Theatre bothers with press nights. It goes without saying that if a show is staged there it is going to be, at worst, rather good. There is no need for the public to bother reading its reviews, if you have been there once you know you will go again and again.

As a venue it reminds me so much of the Donmar Warehouse in the West End, small but totally engaging with guaranteed quality both on and off stage. Well surprise, surprise this version of Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’ hits all the right spots.

First commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the original show opened at, ‘guess where?’, the Donmar in 1980 with Julie Walters and Mark Kingston in the student/teacher roles. It hit the big screen in 1983 with Julie Walters reprising ‘Rita’ and Michael Caine as ‘Frank’.

Here Tim Bentinck (26 years and still counting as David Archer on the radio) is the self pitying but kind hearted academic whose disillusioned life is reinvigorated by a straight (but very common) talking Open University student who has a boundless thirst for knowledge, played so convincingly by Claire Lams.

Bentinck captures the jaded dishevelled image of the lecturer to a tee as his initial hostility turns to encouragement as he finds he is getting as much out of the lessons on the back of his students fierce desire to broaden her horizons as Rita herself. Lams ‘nails’ the broad scouse accent that infers her lack of social standing and really homes in on the characters yearning for enrichment and enlightenment.

There is always the suggestion of underlying sexual tension from the professor which just goes over the head of our student as she imagines so many different worlds in which she is a significant ‘player’. This ‘love interest’ is so wonderfully captured in the final scene when Frank ends up with nothing more than a haircut.

Andrew Edwards old fashioned literary study gives a real look and feel to the work place of our ‘once uncaring’ tutor and provides plenty of hiding places for the many bottles of whisky he had come to depend on.

Director Jamie Glover has captured the cynicism and weariness of Frank so well along side a Rita who knows no bounds and allows him to join her on a magic carpet ride to ‘anywhere she wants’.

Willy Russell really is a champion of capturing the passion that exists amongst the underclass, highlighting how the cream will still rise to the top, taking those that care on the same upward spiral. Yet another fantastic night out in Berkshire. You would have to be ‘off your cake’ to miss this.

Photo: Mike Eddowes
Runs until Sat 14th Nov
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