Review | Educating Rita | Newcastle Theatre Royal
Last night I was invited to the opening night of Educating Rita. You may have even seen the film adaptation with Julie Walters and Michael Caine, but this started off on the stage over 40 years ago and it continues on it’s UK Tour after the pandemic starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson. I hadnt seen either the play or film before, so was only aware of the blurb and it’s reputation. This is the comedy classic about a married hairdresser called Rita wanting to expand her horizons through an open university course. Her tutor Frank a dedicated drinker, frsutrated poet and academic who has lost his way. When both come together they find a relationship that blossoms and discover they can learn from eachother.
Set against the backdrop of Frank’s (Stephen Tompkinson) university office, the set was static and simple. The single location to reflect the weekly meet up and feedback provided to Rita for her self learning she completes throughout the rest of the week.
Frank (Stephen Tompkinson) is a university lecturer, and we learn after a put down from his ex wife, he stopped doing what he loved and became a frustrated poet. Working late in the opening scene as he needs money to pay for his drinking habit, in walks Susan (Jessica Johnson) our common as muck hairdresser, clearly there’s a gap in class and culture immediatley. He tells us he has an agreement with he university in which as not to display the signs of drinking, he hides his bottles behind the books in his library rather than stop. Susan who initially calls herself Rita, wants Frank to ‘teach her everything’ and tap into his wordly knowledge. She’s bored of her life and friends and wants to educate herself, and we later learn to what personal cost this comes at. Frank initially doesn’t see what he has to offer but contiunes to tutor her anyway. As we see this frienship blossom we see Frank take her on a journey of literature and culutre.
The play conveys a good bit of humour throughout, and both have good quips and jokes that have us laughing in our seats. The show brings laughs, alongside some sad and emotional moments on Jessicas part. It’s got a good pace throughout and doesnt tire. Jessica Johnson gets a clap too for the numerous outfit changes throughout, reflecting her weekly visits and later changing styles.
Jessica Johnson plays this role brilliantly and for me is the stand out of the two. Whether its becasuse of her working class scouse accent that bellowed out, her characters determination or the empathy I felt towards her. I watched her develop throughout the play into an independent thinker and saw her character develop hugely. Stephen Tompkinson played his character excellently too, engaging with Susan and challenging her thinking even if frustratingly sometimes, I saw the unlikley friendship grow. It was funny to see him engage and teach even when drunk, which showed his charatcer was a more than capable academic. However, I expected Tompkinson’s character to reignite his passion for literature and poetry more than I did, albeit for a few brief references. He continued for me, to be the alcohol dependant tutor to the end with no real visible change in outlook in his life. I did though feel the dependancy on Susan that grew as the play went on. A dependenacy on her that wasn’t there at the start, as he slowly became jealous of her new found freedom, friends and life which he helped to nuture.
I found it to be an enjoyable play. One that I could watch easily and have a few laughs too. It didn’t blow me away or amaze me, but I left feeling content that I was entertained. It’s definately worth seeing while its in town. Please note there is no interval and runs straight through at an hour and a half. Worth 4 stars.
Educating Rita is showing until 18th September.
Tickets from: From £15.00
Matinees: Thu 2pm & Sat 2.30pm
Running time: 90mins (no interval)
Recommended: 7+ contains some strong language
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