REVIEW: Educating Rita – York Theatre Royal

Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson star in a new, critically-acclaimed production of Willy Russell’s award-winning play Educating Rita at York Theatre Royal from 31 August to 4 September.

Educating Rita Show 2020 - Cast Interview | Visit Blackpool

Celebrating it’s 40th Anniversary, Willy Russell’s play Educating Rita was a victim to the lockdown, but finally made its way to York Theatre Royal this week, with Stephen Tompkinson and real-life partner Jessica Johnson, reprising roles Frank & Rita from this classic production.

We are introduced to Frank, an Open University Professor, and Rita (Susan), a working-class hairdresser looking to broaden her outlook on the world through literature. Both parts are played by Johnson and Tompkinson with real fire, and a raw exuberance that just works on stage in this version; Johnson very much channels Julie Walters’ performance in the 1983 movie offering a closer experience to the film than previous versions of the production.

Educating Rita UK Tour 2021 - Educating Rita Tickets

Many works from 40 years ago struggle to stand the test of time, especially when discussing themes around social mobility, or culture, but Russell’s script is just as pertinent and almost harrowingly relevant in 2021 as it was back in 1980. Educating Rita is fast paced, challenging many topics in just 90 minutes, but the direction and production this time round, feels very real, and almost like it’s set in the present day, such is the cleverness of the writing.

Olivier and Tony-award winning producer David Pugh said: “Rita is the most extraordinary character – she wanted to change and learn so much and that’s everything we are going through at the moment, to adapt to the world as it is now. What we know is that Educating Rita gives you a great night out at the theatre and that’s the best any of us can hope for.”

The intenseness of the couple on stage was electrifying to watch. The two actors bounced off each other and you could tell they were having genuine fun on stage – when fun is being had on stage, it is definitely being had in the audience. From cute comedy such as referring to assonance as “getting the rhyme wrong” through to intense jealousy being shown by Frank, Educating Rita has it all. Drama, humour, entertainment and I can honestly say this version was the best I’ve seen in its 40 year history.

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