Director Robin Herford and set designer Michael Holt, along with the rest of the crew at The Mill at Sonning, give us a gem of a production of Willy Russell’s timeless masterpiece Educating Rita. The actors, Stuart Fox (Frank) and Laura Doddington (Rita) are a two-handed tour de force performing with humour, angst and perfect comic timing.
The stage is set out as the first floor study of Frank, an English Literature tutor at Liverpool University. The Mill being a perfect setting for what is an intimate story.
When the play opens Frank is wandering about his room, checking bookshelves until he finds what he is looking for: a bottle of scotch. We quickly realise that Frank is an alcoholic and an unwilling Open University tutor. He admits he is only doing it to pay for his alcohol habit.
Into this picture walks Rita; a hairdresser, greedy for knowledge because she thinks this will change her life.
“They go to the hairdressers because they want to be changed,” she tells Frank in their first encounter, “but you have to change from the inside.”
Rita is looking for a new meaning to her life and wants to learn a new, cultured way of living but as her education continues she feels like an alien not fitting into any world: “If you take studying seriously you become different to your mates and that’s not allowed.”
Frank and Rita change as the play continues. Frank spiralling downward as he tries to anaesthetise his feelings over crumbling relationships and writers block. Rita on the other hand grows and blossoms, gaining confidence as she gains knowledge.
Both characters are living lives they don’t like. Rita is trying to escape by getting an education and Frank by turning to the bottle.
The play is delivered in short acts that propel us forward through the academic year. One scene at a time we see Rita and Frank change.
Educating Rita will warm your heart and leave you smiling on a cold evening.
The play runs at The Mill at Sonning until March 21, with matinees on weekends.
For more details, or to book, call the box office on 0118 969 8000 or log on to its website.