‘Educating Rita’ is a 1980 comedy, written by British playwright William ‘Willy’ Martin Russell. That year saw the play win Russell the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. In 1984 ‘Educating Rita’ was further nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA, both for the screenplay, and then later a Golden Globe Award, again for the screenplay.
Like the girl in the story, Willy started life as a ladies’ hairdresser and he owned a hair salon. He too was born just after the war in Whiston, originally a dirty mining area of Liverpool; it is now an attractive sought-after suburb.
In the 1980s Russell wrote such diverse musicals as ‘John, Paul, George …. and Bert’ and ‘Blood Brothers’, along with his ever popular play, ‘Shirley Valentine’.
Having become very aware of an actor’s linguistic skills and demands, in 1990 Russell opened ‘The Willy Russell Centre for Children and Adults Who Stammer’.
This production is being performed by the Kwinana Theatre Workshop, 25 minutes away from the CBD at the Koorliny Centre, 60 Sulphur Road, Kwinana. Curtain up at 8.00 pm on the weekends until the 29th October, with a matinee on Sunday the 23rd October at 2.00 pm.
A 26 year-old, outspoken yet staid, Liverpudlian hairdresser, Susan but who calls herself ‘Rita’ (Diana Oliver) after the author of her favourite book ‘Ruby Fruit Jungle’, is enthusiastic to learn. Dissatisfied with the drudgery of her work, marriage and the boredom of a non-existing social life, Rita hunts for a phoenix-like rebirth, and so she enrols in the Open University (a UK correspondence course, originally designed to give the working class a chance of self-development and a degree).
The curtain rises as ‘Rita’ arrives for her first meeting with her English Literature tutor; he is a man in his fifties who is living with an ex-student. The lecturer is Dr. Frank Bryant (Ian Butcher), who loves his lecture subject, but has become totally disenchanted with teaching, along with life in general. Driven to drink, he has taken on a tutoring post to subsidise his leisure ‘activity’.
Immediately there is a warm bond between pupil and teacher, as at last Frank finds a scholar who genuinely wants to learn. Rita also finds a new freedom and exciting insight to her inner self.
Will this pinnacle in their happiness blossom and last? The play finishes with Rita giving Frank something he won’t forget in a hurry!
Director Adam Salathiel has fearlessly tackled this mammoth play, two and a half hours of two-handed acting, very successfully. He has kept the action moving around the stage, and with quick fades to dark – for about 10 seconds – changed the scene by hours or days, without slowing the pace or interest (very well planned and efficient set changes by Cally Zanik, Alissa Hobbs).
The set and props, by Alan Salathiel, were first-rate. The lecturer’s office was typical and genuine. The costumes (Jasmine Howells) ranged from the gaudy on Rita’s first entrance, gradually changing to sophisticated. Not surprisingly this play has been compared to Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in ‘Pygmalion’.
The script is beautifully constructed and the dialogue hilarious. Considering the amount of lines they had to learn, the cast had good rapport and did an amazing job. Ian’s pace wandered slightly at times, but his performance was admirable. Diana’s Scouse accent was rock solid and most authentic. Her whole performance was truly outstanding. With a dozen full costume changes, and only seconds for each one, she was never fazed or daunted.
An excellent performance, plenty of laughs and most professional. You won’t see a better ‘Rita’.