Educating Rita

This was to be my first experience of Educating Rita as I have not seen the film before and did not know anything of the story. I didn’t know what to expect and truth be told I couldn’t remember the details about the production that had been sent to me prior to the show.

Educating Rita auditorium - Queens Theatre Hornchurch (websize)

So the first surprise of the evening came to  me when I walked in to the theatre to see that the stage had been extended into the audience with seating on 3 of the 4 aspects. This isn’t something I have experienced often in theatre and I do wonder for what purpose if any this was done.  What I can say is it certainly created interest and I assume for the people sitting in those seats a sense of closeness to the production that was missing for the rest of us. That is neither here nor there as I didn’t feel I was missing out by not being in those seats. What I was more focused on was the incredible staging. the set was fantastic, with lots of props and items for the actors to interact with. A necessary element as it turns out because the entire play is confined to one room!

The second surprise of the evening, was that as I thumbed through the programme, it became apparent that only 2 actors are in the play. This filled me with a little trepidation, especially as I realised that it would be presented in this one room. 2 hours, 2 actors, 1 room!

Danielle Flett & Ruairi Conaghan - Educating Rita - Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

The third surprise came quite quickly, and that was that despite my reservations, this production really works. There are a number of clever tricks and techniques that are used to maximise the interest from one room and 2 actors. The staging as discussed is overflowing with props and the scenes are broken up into sometimes very small bite sized chunks, punctuated by the lights going out to signify the passage of time. But chiefly and most importantly, what makes this production work is the quality of the acting. Ruairi Conaghan as alcoholic lecturer Frank and Danielle Flett as knowledge explorer Rita, are simply superb. Their dynamic together is wonderful and I particularly liked the way the characters developed over the course of the play.

Frank and Rita are the very definition of ‘the odd couple’ who both go on very personal journeys through the course of the play. We laugh and we lament with them and that is due to the expert handling of our emotions by the actors. Of particular note for me is Conaghan’s developing breaking heart, and Flett’s transformation from nervously seeking affirmation, to confidently stating opinion.

Danielle Flett as Rita - Educating Rita - Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

The only major down note for me was the ending felt a little abrupt, but that aside I thought this was a delightful production that is a joy to experience – and I happily award it 4/5 stars



All images are copyright Mark Sepple used with permission of the Queens Theatre

A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production

Willy Russell’s timeless and inspirational comedy.

Whisky-loving Open University professor Frank Bryant is expected to teach when the pubs are open – much to his disgust.  So when gobby hairdresser Rita bursts into his book lined study insisting that Frank becomes her assigned tutor, he grudgingly accepts the challenge. Rita may think Yeats is a wine lodge but she also believes that literature could offer her a way out of the rut she’s in.

Slowly, Frank realises that this enthusiastic working-class student has much to teach him too – making him question his work and his very being in the process. This iconic, hilarious and touching play won an Olivier Award in 1980 and remains as brilliant and relevant as ever. Rita’s personal and academic evolution is a joy to witness, with a resolution as unexpected as it is full of promise.

Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980, Willy Russell’s Educating Rita ran for over two years in the West End and won the Society of West End Theatres award for Best Comedy. It subsequently became a BAFTA award-winning film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters.

For the first time in Queen’s Theatre history, you’ll be able to get up close to the action as we will be extending the stage into the auditorium to offer a truly unique and intimate setting. With limited seating on the stage in our usual comfortable auditorium seats, it’s a viewing experience not to be missed!

Age guidance 12+

Contains some strong language

Educating Rita runs until 13th May

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About Chris Stagg

I joined the Phoenix FM team in September 2014 - I believe I definitely have a face for radio! You can hear me every week on my 90s radio show, TFI90s, between 6pm and 8pm on Thursdays. I also have an occasional podcast "Words & Sound" on the Phoenix FM website. I'm a freelance writer and illustrator; I enjoy writing fiction and I'm a great lover of comedy and darker elements of the craft. I live in Essex and also enjoy watching cartoons, wrestling, horror films and reading comics.