As most of Glasgow soaked up the rays in the last day of the heat wave, the audience took their seats last night in the, unexpectedly, cool Theatre Royal. Given that we don't get much sunshine up here it's a credit to the superb piece that the audience willingly abandoned the beer garden and charred sausages for a night in a dark theatre.
A piece with similarities to Pygmalion, it’s clear to see why it is so revered. Educating Rita is a stark reminder of the importance of access to knowledge and the social mobility that a good education allows. Written by Willy Russell, also known for Blood Brothers and Our Day Out, Educating Rita does draw on Russell’s own experiences growing up with limited opportunities and a life path that was clearly mapped out for him by social convention. Rita (Claire Sweeney) feels trapped in her working class life and access to Frank's (Matthew Kelly) literature course for her is an escape from the pigeon hole she feels allotted to but Frank has long since taken his own knowledge for granted and is more concerned about where his next drink is coming from than the pursuit of knowledge.
The beautifully crafted set captures the audience's imaginations long before the play starts. Towering book laden shelves dominate the stage as the audience file in and almost invite you to grab a book off the shelves before getting comfy in a squishy armchair or perhaps settle in the bay window with a battered copy of Shakespeare and the sun streaming in. A calm air of knowledge and a hint of disorganisation seep from the tutorial room and easily provide a sense of its owner as Frank arrives and begins to root through the books by author searching not for a novel but a carefully hidden bottle of whisky.
With shaggy grey hair and array of woolly jumpers, cardigans and vests, Kelly captures Frank's discontentment and disappointment with subtlety before slowly unravelling the facade as he pulls at the loose threads that barely hold the fabric of Frank's life together. Claire Sweeney quite literally bursts on stage and into Frank's life as the effervescent Rita. The transformation she undertakes on her journey for knowledge is remarkable. Sweeney takes the brassy Rita and creates a rounded, lovable character that you can’t help but admire for her tenacity and willingness to learn. Sweeney and Kelly have excellent chemistry and the relationship they create is heartwarming and credible.
There is much to learn from Educating Rita and it certainly provided a timely reminder to me that theatre is not something everyone has access to and it should not be taken for granted. In a recession where many feel a bit trapped Rita's determination is a lesson and example to us all.
28th May – Sat 2 June
Mon – Sat eves 7.30pm
Thu & Sat mats 2.30pm
Tickets: £13 – £28
Box Office 0844 871 7647 (Bkg fee)
www.atgtickets.com/glasgow (bkg fee)