Frank Bryant (David Jeffrey) has become a tutor, for an Open University English Literature course, entirely just for the money. He is an older middle-class professor, a career academic, and a high-functioning alcoholic, who had ambitions to be a great poet and is bored with his University job of teaching undergraduate English Literature. His first student Rita White (Emily McGowan) struts into his book-filled office.
Rita is an unhappy married hairdresser, down-to-earth and excessively talkative but often rambling, and now aged 26 years, she needs freedom and is driven to dedicate herself to receiving all of the education, that she failed to receive in school.
Rita brings all of her under-educated blunt honesty, to loudly challenge Frank’s deep intellect and limitless knowledge of literature. Each inspires the other to become more alive, and better live their lives. Socially inept Rita believes that she is trapped by her working class life and her husband, and the theme of identity emerges, because she changed her birth name from Susan to Rita. Rita believes that studying literature for twelve months, will give her the worldly knowledge that she needs to grow as a person.
Playwright Willy Russell has sleekly styled EDUCATING RITA with realistic character-driven dialogue, providing the perfect balance of humour and poignancy. The play is fast paced, dialogue intensive 120 minutes of theatre entertainment, full of purpose, comedy and pathos, as these two people, learn more about each other, the class system, and the many shortcomings of institutionalised education systems.
EDUCATING RITA is exactly what live theatre at its best can do. David Jeffrey has designed a set, equivalent to those designed by the Sydney Theatre Company or Belvoir Street Theatre. Julie Baz as Sound Designer, for each scene transition and to accentuate the passage of time, has chosen mood-perfect music, composed by Tim Linghaus.
Directed with characteristically quiet ferocity, Julie Baz has chosen the perfect cast who deliver flawless performances. Emily McGowan as Rita is witty, charming and radiant. David Jeffrey is wonderful as Frank, and the contrast between the two personalities is spellbinding.
This is impeccably crafted entertainment. EDUCATING RITA is playing at the Depot Theatre until May 20.
The Depot Theatre, 142 Addison Road, Marrickville, with on-site free car parking.
All photos by Katy Green Loughrey.