Finding the Authentic Self: Educating Rita at the Headgate Theatre.

Launching R Bland Productions comes this staging of Willy Russell’s 1983 classic Educating Rita. It’s been around for so long, most famously the Michael Caine and Julie Walters film, that many of us take the play for granted, but for younger audiences, the play now has a contemporary resonance. 

In her search to be free and find her authentic self, Rita is now in touch with our exploration of self-identity. Aside from that, it’s a cracking play, with an equal mix of humour and poignancy as Rita begins her Open University course under the tutelage of drunk, cynical Frank. 

The play’s the thing, but in this two-hander, the acting is hugely important too! Emily Johnson is an absolute delight as Rita, perfectly capturing her journey from the nervous hairdresser, lacking in self-belief but certain she has to do this, to a successful graduate who has found her own voice. She is funny and adorable, and from the start, you are on her side. 

But of course, the play is as much Educating Frank as it is about Rita, and Glenn Granger has the more challenging role, Frank being pretty much a cypher for Rita as she develops. Glenn captures well the broken down, unambitious aspect of drunkenness, but I felt I could have done with some more layering of emotion as the play went on; there were times when his despair about life and his fondness for Rita could have been expressed more. 

Both performers also needed to project their voices more; there were times when it felt quiet from the front row. There were also a few line blips, but this did not take away too much from the interaction between the characters.

Richard Bland’s direction is astute and pacey, with 80s music through a Bridgerton vibe covering the scene changes, allowing Rita time to change costume, but also to suggest the passing of time. It’s a shame that Frank didn’t even change his jumper, but I acknowledge that this signifies that he is unable to move on.  It sets a high bar for further productions, and with the audience support strong, the future looks very promising!