Tim Piggott-Smith and Laura Dos Santos play Frank and Rita
We brought you the Shirley Valentine review from its original home; now it's Rita's turn.
Rita is a feisty Liverpudlian hairdresser, fed up with her job and her social life. For her, an Eng Lit Open University course seems to offer an escape route. She forms an unlikely friendship with her alcoholic tutor, Frank. He gives her the self-confidence to change her lifestyle; her energetic openness forces him to change some of his cynical attitudes.
If you want to see something inventive and new, you won't find it in Jeremy Sams' safe production of Willy Russell's popular play. You will find some fantastic acting and plenty of laughs. Laura Dos Santos is wonderful as Rita; hugely likeable, packed with pent-up energy, curious, witty and intelligent. Her comic timing is spot-on, as cute cultural misunderstandings and moments of awkwardness flow off the stage and wrap themselves around the audience. As Frank, Tim Piggott-Smith captures the lecturer's exasperation well; we wondered if sometimes his alcoholic self-loathing disappeared too soon in the face of his engaging pupil.
So, great acting, and a witty script. No complaints there.
But when reviewing plays, londonist's esteemed editors often ask us to consider "why this; why now?" And for a while we couldn't fathom what the point was in this revival. There's nothing new about the production: it's a sweet piece of mum-pleasing nostalgia. The sort of thing that'd have us pointing out there's a perfectly good DVD option, that's pretty much the same great acting and witty script, if you're strapped for cash.
But then we started thinking. Educating Rita is a real product of its time: a crowd-pleasing two-hander, taking place entirely in one room, discussing borderline-edgy issues of class and education. First performed in 1980, when funding for the arts was in a pretty sorry state, it's just the kind of safe, small, dare we say, cheap show we just might be seeing more of as the government cuts arts funding again. And while Educating Rita is a perfectly nice, sweet theatrical dish, we can't help thinking that a diet of nothing but risk-free plays like this can't be good for the health of London's diverse audiences. So perhaps there is something timely in this revival: a bit of a warning.
Educating Rita is booking at the Trafalgar Studios until 30 October, alongside Shirley Valentine, starring Meera Syal. Special offers on tickets suggest at the moment, you can get a seat for just £12.50 including booking fees. Visit www.trafalgar-studios.co.uk to find out more.