A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

REVIEW: Educating Rita, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre



Educating Rita is, by far, one of my favourite plays of all time. I absolutely adore Willy Russell’s work; his way of putting working class stories onto the stage is something I have always admired. 

Having spent four years of my life in Liverpool, and being a working class girl myself who never quite felt smart enough to go to University (still did though – maybe I was inspired by Rita herself?), I connect with the storyline of this play so much that when I left the theatre after the production, I felt like my heart could burst. 

Willy Russell’s hugely successful play premiered in June 1980 at The Warehouse in London, before becoming a film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters – arguably the role that made her a household name. 

It follows the story of Frank, a down and depressed university lecturer who finds all his happiness at the bottom of a bottle. To pay for his drinking ways, he takes on a student through the Open University. Enter Rita, real name Susan, who is desperate to learn everything – really, everything – about English Literature quicker than you can say Charles Dickens. 

Rita, a working class Scouser, never cared much at school, because it wasn’t cool. But now late twenties, married and with a husband desperate for children, Rita realises that there has to be more to life. Applying for the university course is so much more than just learning academically, she’s on a mission to discover her true self. 

The play follows Rita’s insecurities, that she’s not smart enough or rich enough to study, turn into confidence, and knowledge. The charismatic, charming pocket rocket becomes smart and has intellectual conversations. At first, Frank loves seeing this side of her. He knows his work is actually working. 

However, over time, as Rita becomes more confident in her abilities, Frank becomes bitter and mean, not wanting to lose the one thing keeping him alive. 

 There’s just the two of them on stage for the whole show. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, it always shows just how much talent there is on stage when just two people can keep the audience interested and engaged in their story.




Now, the talent! The role of Frank is taken on by Stephen Tompkinson, one of the country’s very best actors. He makes this role his own and it suits him to a T. His character goes from incredible highs to sudden lows throughout the play, and it just shows how much of an outstanding actor he is to be able to make the audience believe that he really is going through these emotions.
Rita is played by Jessica Johnson. What. A. Star. I absolutely adored Jessica’s take on this role. She did it absolutely perfectly. From the accent to the characteristics she has definitely picked up from Julie Walters role, she was just ideal for this role. She was able to make the audience completely fall in love with her, making us belly laugh as well as wiping the tears away. But the combination of both Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson was the perfect match. 

The set was simple but very effective, and Patrick Connellan’s design was filled from top to bottom with books – essentially my dream room – with mess scattered around the room and hidden bottles to show the issues Frank is facing without being too obvious. 

Another aspect of the show that I loved was the costumes, which showed the transition of Rita without being too noticeable. Rita goes from wearing heels and jumpers at the beginning to fun and stylish dungarees and jeans throughout the show, again showing that she was keen to reinvent herself and start again. 

Educating Rita made me feel so many emotions, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage for the whole show. It was hugely enjoyable, funny, heart-warming and I left feeling so inspired – and desperate to dig into a good book! It is a fantastic production, and a wonderful way to spend an evening. 

If you get the chance, you should absolutely go and see this show! 

Educating Rita: 10/10 

*I was gifted two tickets to enjoy this production from Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in return for a review. I was under no obligation to write a good review.
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