Review: Educating Rita by Willy Russell at Colchester Mercury until March 14

Samantha Robinson and Dougal Lee in Willy Russell's modern classic Educating Rita which is currently

Samantha Robinson and Dougal Lee in Willy Russell's modern classic Educating Rita which is currently playing at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester - Credit: Archant

This is Russell’s piece de resistance in which he brings together two very unlikely, very different people in a brilliant situation which is a laugh a minute.

Samantha Robinson and Dougal Lee in Willy Russell's modern classic Educating Rita which is currently

Samantha Robinson and Dougal Lee in Willy Russell's modern classic Educating Rita which is currently playing at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester - Credit: Archant

Rita is one of the many who realize, often too late, that they have let education slip past them at school for one reason or another. They end up in a job they don’t like and from which there is no escape without a supreme effort and, chances are, some sympathetic help.

Some have the courage and will-power to take on this struggle and Rita is one of them. A ladies hairdresser, she is married to a man who can think of nothing except nights in the pub and giving his wife a baby – something unlikely to happen because, unbeknown to him, she is on the pill.

She knows there is more to life than a shampoo and set and she signs on for an Open University course in English literature and is given Frank as her tutor. Frank is a disillusioned poet who is equally disenchanted with teaching his lacklustre daytime students and has only taken on Rita to pay for the bottles whisky he keeps hidden in the bookshelves of his college room.

His life’s a mess and he’s been warned by his superiors about the booze but he needs it to get through each tiresome day. And then Rita arrives. She doesn’t so much arrive as explode into Frank’s life, a bundle of indivertible energy insisting that Frank educate her out of her frustrating Liverpudlian roots.


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Her arguments are simplistic and naïve and initially Frank, although needing the money, decides that this is a challenge too far and tries to get her to give up or move to another tutor.

But she is immovable, sure he is the right teacher for her and slowly Frank sees something very special in Rita that he is anxious to develop. Their meetings are hilarious as, with all manner of literary allusions and jokes, he begins to turn this attractive pig’s ear into a considerable silk purse.

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Samantha Robinson and Dougal Lee are made for these roles and they bounce off each other with happy relish. It’s a great comedy but it also has good moments of drama and there are clever clashes when Rita sees what she’s doing as a social leveller as much as an education.

Frank wants her to develop her unusual talents of comment, Rita seeks the nous to pass exams and there is a parting of the ways. But their edgy relationship has a notable result. It gives both of them several fresh choices for their lives. One of them might just bring them together again.

David Henshall

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