At 140 mins long with just 2 actors and a set that never changes you would imagine an audience might get a little anxious watching Educating Rita at The Lowry. Well, you would be wrong.
Despite going to see it on a Friday night (after a particularly manic week) I admit I had my reservations and thought that as the lights went down so might my eyelids - but cut to over 2 hours later and I was left wanting more and totally enthralled at the great acting I had just witnessed.
Gillian Kearney and Philip Bretherton are the sole actors in this production of Willy Russell’s play Educating Rita and should be applauded for both remembering the huge chunks of dialogue and keeping the audience engaged throughout.
For those that don’t know the story or have yet to see the 1983 film starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine, Educating Rita tells the tale a working-class hairdresser from Liverpool, ‘Rita’ (Gillian Kearney), who takes up an open university course to ‘better herself’ and get out of the hole she is stuck in. When Rita meets her jaded and alcoholic lecturer, Frank (Philip Bretherton), an unlikely friendship is formed. But, as Rita becomes ‘educated’ Frank finds it hard to connect with the woman he has ‘created’ and becomes even more disenchanted with his teaching career - ultimately driving them apart.
Gillian Kearney is a delight to watch as Rita. There’s never a moment on stage where you don’t feel the vulnerability of the character through Kearney’s portrayal. With every line she utters she has the audience totally with her, willing her on to become the ‘Rita’ she so longs to be. Kearney brings a real youth and vibrancy to the role but is still able to strip it right back for the moments where Rita feels like she’s ‘not worth it’ and can’t fit in. Her transformation from wannabe student to a confident learned young woman is incredible and a performance that should see Kearney get a nod for a Manchester Theatre Award nomination next year.
Bretherton brings the frustration of Frank to the forefront and he plays an almost ‘Hugh Grant’ caricature at times. It took him a good few minutes to really settle into the role; I felt the opening of the play where Frank is on the phone to Julia was a tad overplayed but as soon as he teamed up with Kearney a magical connection was formed and for the rest of the duration the pair bounce off each other perfectly.
Willy Russell’s humour still stands the test of time over 30 years since it was first written. He produces some gems of dialogue including some fabulous one-liners such as Rita exclaiming: “Christ! My customer! She only came in for a demi-wave she’ll come out looking like a flippin muppet!”
Artistic Director Chris Honer has put on yet another winning production at The Lowry as The Library Theatre company awaits it’s new HOME which is winging it’s way to Manchester Spring 2015. Go see it whilst you can, it runs till 12th October.
Thurs 26th Sept – 12th Oct
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Salford M50 3AZ.
Box office: 0843 208 6010.