Watermill - Educating Rita
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Watermill - Educating Rita

8th October to 14th November 2009.

From Newbury Theatre.

When Willy Russell wrote Educating Rita in 1980, the Open University was 10 years old and amazingly had 70,000 students. OU student Rita is a 26-year-old lippy scouse hairdresser, arriving for her first tutorial with Frank, who is less than enthusiastic about doing OU teaching as a sideline to his ‘proper’ university job. Despite Rita’s scant knowledge of her subject (English), her enthusiasm to learn and her bubbly personality win Frank over, but as Rita blossoms, Frank withers.

A play with just two characters is challenging for the actors (although it gives the tiny Watermill the opportunity to have a larger set than usual). Claire Lams is an elfin Rita; sometimes sparkly, sometimes sad, always garrulous; a lively and likeable character. But it is Tim Bentinck as Frank who won my heart. Bumbling, clumsy, bear-like, his hopes of finding love with Rita were never going to happen, and his gradual realisation of this signals his decline.

If this were a classic rom-com, each would have been the salvation of the other, but Rita is destined for greater things. Or did the final twist offer Frank a glimmer of hope?

The success of a two-hander obviously depends on how well the two work together, and these two were excellent: entirely believable and sympathetic. This play may not leave you with a warm, happy feeling, but it may make you think about relationships and where your own life is going.

PAUL SHAVE

From the Newbury Weekly News.

In a class of their own

Top marks for Tim Bentinck in The Watermill's Educating Rita

Educating Rita, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until November 14

Unbelievably, it's nearly 30 years since the film Educating Rita, based on Willy Russell's play of the same name, about the developing relationship between an Open University tutor and one of his students, was first released. Even though it gives away my age to say so, the film had a certain resonance for me at the time, since my mother had just completed an OU degree in English Literature and my boyfriend du jour was a staff tutor at its Manchester office. I speak with some authority, then, when I say that Tim Bentinck brings much more of the louche and disillusioned academic to the role than Michael Caine (who, for me, is always Alfie, whatever his role) could ever do. I say this even though, as a follower of Radio 4's The Archers, in which Bentinck has played David for 25 years, I was fascinated to see the actor in the flesh and shamefully straining to catch glimpses of Ruth's hardworking husband. It was all the more to his credit, then, that Bentinck, with his tousled hair, shambling movements and whisky-sodden wisdom, really made the part of Frank his own and the righteous dairy farmer was nowhere to be seen.

Julie Walters was a much harder act to follow, but still, I felt that Claire Lams, despite stumbling over her words in a couple of places, gave a very appealing performance as the culture-hungry hairdresser. This Rita was funny and feisty and, in her enthusiasm for both life and learning, made the world-weary Frank's attraction to her at once credible and creditable. Given that the entire action took place with just two actors in one room, there wasn't a dull moment.

Touching on the set, I have found many of those at The Watermill to be particularly engaging and this one was no exception. With its yards of shelving, bearing disorderly rows of whisky bottle-concealing books and battered table and chairs, you felt that you could march straight into this room and start talking about your essay on Shakespeare. Or, indeed, Educating Rita.

CAROLE ELGUETA

There are reviews in The Stage ("brilliantly acted and considerately staged... funny, thought-provoking and so fastly paced from the start that the audience hardly has time to draw breath... Jamie Glover’s direction is generally faultless"), the Wiltshire Times ("a very enjoyable, albeit bitter-sweet evening") and the Oxford Times ("pupil and teacher are both given strong performances here, under director Jamie Glover").