Review by Peter McGarry

Peter McGarry is an experienced, independent professional theatre critic who has agreed to review Talisman Theatre productions.
Peter is free to express his opinions for good or ill. The Talisman Theatre has no control whatsoever over the content of these reviews and will not comment publicly on what he writes.

Educating Rita (2015):
It's always a bold move by a local theatre to stage a two-hander, both in box office terms and the extra demands placed on the company over keeping an audience's interest alive.

Fortunately there are no such problems here. Director David Draper capitalises on the use of two strong performers and another fine John Ellam set which perfectly captures the bookish and somewhat jaded environment of alcoholic Open University tutor Frank.

There is also the seemingly evergreen appeal of playwright Willy Russell whose name will still act as a draw even if some of the original pungency has been diluted by the passing years.

The humour remains broad and fairly obvious. It's a clash between culture and the commoner as represented by literature (E. M. Forster) being rubbished and poetry being pigeon-holed as only any good if you can understand it. Rita the would-be student says it how it is in her sing-song Scouser style. Frank stumbles off to find another bottle of Scotch filed behind Charles Dickens.

The parts are played with incisive skill by Julie-Ann Randell and Matthew Salisbury. She is outwardly brash and funny; he is cynical and world-weary. She is inwardly tragic, seeking some new inspiration and meaning to life outside a bad marriage; he has reached a point of self-loathing - "There is less to me than meets the eye...."

Both players turn up the heat well and it's easy to see why Russell's analysis of how roles and attitudes can reverse was so well received in the Eighties. Today, however, we are more attuned to the whims of class-conscious society so the play has a somewhat laboured feel and the first act is far too long and repetitive.

Russell may be observant and witty, but unlike Wilde and Coward and even the Ayckbourn of earlier days, not all of his work stands the test of time.



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