As the Director, Chris Honer, observes in the programme introduction to Educating Rita, reviving a play about the ability of arts education to transform lives, at a time when arts budgets are being slashed across the board, seems particularly apt. Whilst this play is set in the eighties, it certainly has relevance today, albeit that any modern day Rita with aspirations to widen her horizons, might have more trouble accessing the types of educational opportunities that prove so transforming to the working class girl.
From the moment that Rita bursts into the room and into the life of lecturer Frank, you can see she is something quite special. She bounces round the room, drinking in every aspect of her surroundings, forcing Frank to see things through new eyes. She wants to learn 'everything' and her approach to life and her studies both challenges and refreshes Frank.
We see the journeys of both characters through the play. Rita's increasing absorption into the world of academia pulls her away from her 'place' in society, her expanding horizons cause resentment in her home life, and her increasing absorption into student circles frustrates Frank as he observes the unique freshness of her reactions to literature become more uniform and swayed by others opinions.
Similarly, Rita is a breath of fresh air in the jaded and stuffy world that Frank has built around him in the University. It brings him more alive to start with, he even lays off the scotch for a while! But as Rita becomes more independent of his influence we see him fall back into his old ways in quite spectacular fashion!
Gillian Kearney and Philip Bretherton do a fantastic job in bringing Rita and Frank to life and portraying their journeys and the subtle shifts in power in their relationship. Their performances are believable, funny, touching and skilful and I was absorbed from start to finish.
The design of the play by Judith Croft is also wonderful, with a gorgeous set oozing with detail. I adored the costume design for Rita, sumptuous colours, with the changes in her style echoing the changes in her life and outlook across the course of the play.
A wonderful start to the Library Theatre Company's final season (sniff) at the Lowry, and a deserved packed house. All round fabulousness in spades.