Updated: Friday, 6th December 2019 @ 5:51am

Review: Educating Rita @ The Lowry, Salford

Review: Educating Rita @ The Lowry, Salford

| By Becky Page

When a gobby hairdresser, Rita, enrols on an open university course and is assigned to an initially less than willing tutor, Frank, the pair are clueless as to the lessons they are destined to teach each other.

A set of leather seats, rustic bookshelves, a mahogany desk and mid-16th century style windows oozed seductive academia on the opening night of Educating Rita at the Lowry.

Patrick Connellon’s design allowed audiences to see education through the eyes of impressionable Rita, portrayed by Jessica Johnson, and as there were no scene changes, this office provided the central hub for the entire play.

Stephen Tompkinson, who played the self-pitying alcoholic tutor, Frank, brought out a real vulnerability and heart in his character.

From the moment Rita entered the office, Tompkinson illustrated how she was already moving him, through his facial expression and use of silence.

Although a play of little action, where the monumental drama happens outside of the office, like Rita’s husband kicking her out, Educating Rita relies on character development and the relationship between teacher and student as its premise.

In Act 1, we see a wide-eyed Rita who hangs off everything her self-depreciating tutor says and the audience watches how her charming, blunt simplicity impacts Frank, so much so that he goes to repeat one of her earlier opinions in a lecture in Act 2: “Assonance means getting the rhyme wrong!”

Laughs filled the theatre from start to finish. Johnson’s Liverpudlian accent was not entirely flawless but her commitment to the character’s gobby, opinionated personality outshone any slip in this manner of speaking.

Costume was subtly used in the play to highlight the change in Rita, executed by Sam Newland. Beginning in a midi-denim skirt and red high heels with a leopard print top, she embodies the stereotypical role of working-class that she strives so hard to break free from.

In Act 2, Johnson wore a bandana and was dressed in lose fitting dungarees, influenced more so by her new flatmate Trish, than her old muse, Frank.

As they worked their way through Willy Russell’s comedy drama, the actors perfectly balanced wit with a raw exposé on class, relationships and humanity.

Tremendously uplifting and thought-provoking with an innocent charm, Educating Rita is a gem that gains its power from its understated vulnerability.

*Educating Rita is showing at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday, May 4. You can buy tickets HERE.