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Review: 'Educating Rita' at the Dukes


Andrew Pollard and Lauryn Redding as Frank and Rita
Andrew Pollard and Lauryn Redding as Frank and Rita
Chris Satori

Director Sarah Punshon follows her Christmas success 'Aladdin' with another strong production. Educating Rita is an economical play. One set, two characters, several years. Played in the round, it is intimate, and more compelling than any film could be. We sit at the edges of the tutor's study, where the stacks of notes and essays almost touch our toes. We feel the energy of their discussions and their dilemmas become our own. They put the questions at our feet, where, we remember, they have always lived.

In 1983 the play's author, Willy Russell, was awarded an Honorary MA by the Open University at the same degree ceremony at which my mother, aged 63, finally received the Arts BA she had dreamed of and studied for for many years. So I got to hear him speak about Rita, and about the women who had raised him who dreamed of better songs to sing – and who, in the absence of teachers, had learned to see with their own eyes.

Russell's classic two handed comedy will immerse you in the days when studies into social mobility were being enacted into policies that made further education more widely available than it had ever been. And all over the country people whose lives had historically been nailed to an unbreakable template awakened to the possibility of escape. Not by dropping out - but by climbing in.

Lauryn Redding's Rita personifies that moment in history with her wistfulness, raw energy, restless curiosity and sharp, shop-floor wit. She has a great part to work with and, like Rita, she fills it past the brim. Russell articulated a new, iconoclastic kind of heroine for the time, still too rarely seen in drama - a woman whose main preoccupations were not who to sleep with and what to wear, but who, economically independent and finally freed from the historical inevitability of pregnancy and motherhood, yearns to expand her understanding of those aspects of life that her class background has barred her from as pointless, because they didn't put bread on the table. Art, literature – culture.

Andrew Pollard is exceptional in his portrayal of Frank, the academic whose mediocre career in literature has become a Calvary of self-disillusionment and drink. One yearns (almost) as much for his liberation as for Rita's. He personifies the darker conflict of Russell's history – the sell-out to the old system longing for redemption. Both parts are Russell; he wants us to love and understand them both – and Pollard and Redding did win my heart. The balance and chemistry between these two compelling performers brings alive the dilemmas of Russell and his whole generation – do we escape from one cage merely to find ourselves trapped in another, or can we strike out on our own trail, can we begin to identify and value what we truly are, what we truly see, from all the stale mores laid out for each social class?

Educating Rita is on at the Dukes nightly at 7.30 until Saturday 14 April (no performance on Sunday + Monday)
Matinees at 2pm on Wed 11 and Sat 14 April, and at 11am on Tues 10 April. 
BSL performance: Wednesday 11 April
Audio description: An audio guide will be available to accompany this production from Tuesday 10 April
Secrets of the Stage, a talk with the cast and crew is also on Tuesday 10 April
Tickets from Mon – Thu: Downstairs £17.50, Upstairs £15.50
Fri & Sat: Downstairs £19.50, Upstairs £17.50
Balcony stools £8, Standing £5. Special offers available.
Tickets are available from the Dukes Box Office: 01524 598500 or online at: