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Mortimer Dramatic Society - Educating Rita

19th, 20th, 26th, 27th October 2001.

This review is from the Newbury Weekly News.

Full marks for originality

'EDUCATING RITA', performed by Mortimer Dramatic Society, at St. John's Hall, Mortimer, on Friday, October 19, Saturday, October 20, Friday, October 26 and Saturday, October 27

Because Willy Russell's play 'Educating Rita' scored such a hit when released as a film in 1983 it is almost impossible to envisage the character of Rita without hearing and seeing the eminently loveable Julie Walters.

So we could have had an evening laughing at the brassy hairdresser who thought that Yates was only the name of a wine lodge. Given that we had two excellent actors in Helen Sharpe (Rita), and John Burbedge (Frank), none of us would have felt unduly short-changed had that been all we got for the price of our ticket.

However, director Graham Jerome had a vision and a purpose that shone through scene after scene on a delightfully cluttered set that managed to be more than just the sum of the company emptying their cupboards under the stairs. Every knick and knack looked as if it had been auditioned for the part, even the paperback stuck behind the bookcase.

Helen Sharpe built a character without the aid of the obvious embellishments of leopard skin lycra and hair the size of a bus shed. Yes, her Rita was as gutsy, pithy and downright comic as you would expect but she never once allowed the obvious to run away with her. This was no down-trodden victim advocating a blame culture that had 'done her wrong'. This was a real character, commendably crafted, a woman who was able to transform a palpable desire to change into a reality

Helping, or rather frustrating, that change we had John Burbedge (Frank) spiralling ever downwards with every scene change. For the most part his bitter, pathetic, incredibly human portrayal of a lecturer on the skids was a well-cast foil to Rita's gritty determination to succeed. Drunk when sober is never easy to do and there were times when the acting took over and the character was momentarily lost but quality prevailed and the energy (or deliberate lack of it) was maintained to the very end.

Taking on a legend is always tricky, but as the MDS proved, with purpose and vision it can be done and done well.