York Theatre Royal- until 4 September 2021
Reviewed by Katie Goldsbrough
Educating Rita written by Willy Russell 40 years ago tells the story of Rita (Jessica Johnson) and her search for meaning in life. She is a 32-year-old married woman with no children looking for her purpose. She decides to try education and enrols in the open university. This is how she meets Frank, (Stephen Tompkinson) who becomes her tutor.
Coming from an uneducated, working-class background Rita begins to learn from Frank, despite his initial reluctance to teach her. Much preferring to be alone in his office drinking than really helping his students we begin to see him being won over by Rita. Frank begins to care about Rita, who we see develop as a person and gain the meaning she has been looking for throughout the play. They form a wholesome bond, which is refreshing to see in a play featuring just 2 cast members, one male and one female as their relationship remains platonic and they build a heart-warming friendship.
The sense of humour both characters possess is apparent from the start and they will have you laughing from beginning to end. Despite this being predominantly a comedy there are also emotional moments where you really feel for the characters and what they are going through in their personal lives, helping the audience understand and empathise with them both, wanting them to be happy and successful. The play takes place solely in the confines of Franks office, which is well utilised throughout and doesn’t leave you feeling like you need to see the characters elsewhere, this is where their relationship begins and ends.
Stephen Tompkinson, best known for Drop the Dead Donkey, Brassed Off and much more gives a fantastic five-star performance transforming into his character. Jessica Johnson has an excellent introduction in to theatre really making the audience feel for and route for Rita.
Overall, this is a lovely story about someone choosing to better themselves despite struggling earlier in life, it is performed extremely well and at just 1hr 35 minutes with no interval you are able to follow the story continuously without interruption.