The Norwich Theatre Royal is fast becoming one of my favourite places to spend an evening. Educating Rita did not disappoint – it was emotional, funny and engaging. However, with only two cast members and one set, it kind of left me with very little to enthuse about – I know, very unlike me!
While I’m a little too young to remember the film, there were plenty of appreciative nods and comments on how wonderfully it compared. Stephen Tompkinson portrayed Frank the functioning alcoholic lecturer with a perfect combination of sadness and comedy. His character changed from one to the other with an irregularity that kept the audience on it’s toes and made them laugh out loud. I do love any programme with Stephen, he’s one of those actors that straddles the serious/comedy role so well. It was fabulous to watch him up close and personal.
Jessica Johnson might not have as many performing credits as Stephen but she certainly held her own in this two-hander. Her Rita was full of energy, passion and great comic timing. I particularly liked the style detail with every character transition – from 1980’s hairdresser (think Aveline in BBC series ‘Bread’) to university graduate circa the best of Demi Moore in St Elmos Fire. Well done wardrobe!
Of course it’s the shift in the relationship between Frank and Rita that kept the audience gripped with this production – after all, there was nothing else going on, and nothing else was needed. Two characters, one room and a constantly evolving bond.
Willy Russell’s scripted references to the true nature of tragedy in the theatre echoed the reality played out before us as Frank’s education of Rita led her inevitably to need him less and finally to leave him, the thing that eventually he dreaded most… irony indeed.
A thoroughly enjoyable and engaging performance – you’ll love it.