“I want to be a woman who knows the difference between Jane Austen and Ethel Austin.”
Presented by The Dukes and New Vic Theatre, Educating Rita, starring Andrew Pollard as Frank and Lauryn Redding as Rita, is another triumph for Lancaster’s independent theatre. Set in an office, spanning several years, and with only two actors, director Sarah Punshon allows the characters of reluctant tutor Frank and hairdresser-come-student, Rita, to unfold on the stage as we delve into all their intimate conversations.
We watch a relationship grow and a (platonic? who really knows) bond form between two unlikely friends. In Frank’s office, the class divide apparent at the time this play was first performed during the 1980s doesn’t exist. Punshon presents the audience with two ordinary people. All their flaws are on show, all their issues and all their desires.
Lauryn Redding brings the character of Rita to life on the stage. She is bold and sassy, and holds something that we all ought to have a little bit more of in life: ambition. She doesn’t simply want to learn about literature, she wants to know everything. Her thirst for knowledge is refreshing.
At the root of this play is the concept of choices. It’s about choosing to be the best version of yourself. It’s about exceeding expectations and being more than what is expected of us. Rita challenges expectations because, for a working-class scouse hairdresser, opportunities are scarce. In the community where she lives and has been brought up, their idea of having a choice is going down the local pub and having a choice of seven different beers. But beyond the humour and wit of the play lies a particularly sombre tone. Frank and Rita both want more from the life they’ve been handed. This is without a doubt a play that welcomes and inspires change.
My biggest praise, as always with The Dukes, is the set. Frank’s untidy office is the setting for the entire play and has been designed with the most intricate details in mind. Cluttered with students’ essays, perfectly picked out literary texts used to conceal bottles of Scotch and 1970s typewriters, sitting in the round feels as though we’re in the room with Frank and Rita.
All in all, this production deserves nothing less than five stars.
Educating Rita runs at The Dukes in Lancaster until April 14, 2018. For more information, or to book tickets, click here.