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Educating Rita

Presented by The Bakehouse Theatre Company
Reviewed Friday 11th May 2012
 
Willy Russell’s latter day Pygmallion is always a popular piece because of the superb writing, the richly drawn characters, the literary references and discussions, and the clever dialogue. It is 1980 and a married, working class, twenty six year old ladies’ hairdresser from Liverpool, Rita, tired of her dull, unchanging life and uninspiring future, decides to enrol in an Open University course in order to get an education and improve her lot in life. What exactly that education is to be, what getting it will entail, and what it will mean to her when she has it, is beyond her comprehension at the beginning. She attends the first meeting with her assigned tutor, Doctor Frank Bryant, in his office at the university, and this is where we first meet them. We join them for a number of pivotal meetings over the course of the academic year as Rita pushes the reluctant Frank to help her gain the education that she so desperately wants.
 
Incisively directed by Bakehouse Theatre stalwart, Peter Green, this high quality production brings together the always popular Roger Newcombe, and Ruth Fallon, much of whose career has been spent playing Rhapsody in the children’s television series, The Fairies. Illness meant that the opening of this production was delayed, but it was worth waiting for.
 
Peter Green and Pamela Munt designed the set, a good representation of an office, the stuffed bookcases making it clear that the resident is a learned man. Stephen Dean’s carefully planned lighting brings the room to life. As Newcombe enters, as Frank, there is not a moment’s doubt from his appearance and demeanour that he is a university lecturer. Newcombe looks just the part, establishing his character before he even utters a word. We soon discover that Frank is jaded, cynical, tired and an alcoholic, with drink concealed here and there around the office, at the insistence of the faculty who aware of his alcoholism but willing to accept it, as long as he does not make it obvious. Frank has tenure, and so he knows that he has to do something far worse than drinking before they will sack him. He has taken on some Open University tutoring to raise a little extra cash to cover his expensive alcohol addiction. Frank is no cheap drunk.
 
Into his office, and his life, explodes Rita, wandering around the room, inspecting his books, paintings and furnishings, admiring the view from his window and talking excitedly, almost incessantly. Frank sees her as a “breath of fresh air”, but she would be more accurately described as the winds of change. Fallon is a bright and enthusiastic Rita, an unstoppable force in pursuit of her goal, coming face to face with the unmovable object, Frank. Frank’s clever, self-deprecating one-liners start early, with such quips as “there is less to me than meets the eye.” Rita rebuts his negative comments and refuses to accept that she should find a better tutor. So their uneasy educational enterprise begins.
 
Over the course of the year both they and their relationship to one another changes. Initially she is very dependent on Frank but, towards the end of the year, she is filled with new-found self-confidence and skips many of their tutorials, leaves her husband and spends her time with a different class of people, full-time university students. Along they way Frank had learned from her and had improved a little, but had then regressed. At their final meeting they discuss her results in the examinations, as he packs for a sabbatical in Australia at the insistence of the university.
 
Newcombe and Fallon engage in an intricate verbal dance, first one leading, then the other, the balance in a constant state of flux as their characters grow and change. These two create very believable and, in their own different ways, both endearing and frustrating characters. They establish a great rapport in their roles as Frank and Rita, lifting the production above the ordinary. Fallon’s Liverpudlian accent waxing and waning, passing through several English counties, a couple more in Ireland, and even into Glasgow, can be forgiven in the light of the sensational performances that these two give, and the captivating work that they do together.
 
You only have two weeks to catch this fine production, so do not delay.
 
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
 
 
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre, Cnr Angas and Cardwell Street, Adelaide.
Season: to 26th May 2012
Duration: 2hrs 30mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: $15 to $25
Bookings: here or cash at the door on the night (subject to availability)

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