Theatre in Wales

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A formidable and consummately entertaining duo

At the Sherman

Sherman Theatre Company- Educating Rita , Sherman Theatre Cardiff , June 8, 2006
At the Sherman by Sherman Theatre Company- Educating Rita Rita gets educated in the end but I think I liked her a lot better when she was just a simple hairdresser from a ‘salon’ somewhere off Cowbridge Road East. She seemed to be a much more honest girl then, though she was desperately searching for a way to ‘better’ herself. What exactly persuaded her to go down this road I never quite discovered. But down it she went and collided with ‘Prof.’ Frank, who though extremely well educated was far from well adjusted.

He was a drunk, the bottles strewn all over his study proclaimed this loudly. He was holding on to his career by a very thin thread. Nevertheless it was obvious that he was an excellent teacher with a deep knowledge and enthusiastic understanding of English literature. As time goes by he does a very fine job of passing this understanding on to Rita. I don’t think he could have done it, quite as successfully with anyone else. Ruth Jones’ Rita is a very special person and this is a very special performance. Oh yes Rita’s funny, very funny, it’s part of her nature, but this is no comedy performance for the fans. This is a delicate and completely captivating performance, part of a very subtle, highly entertaining and intelligent interpretation of this fascinating play.

The immediacy of it all, being set, only yards from the theatre gave one a sense of snooping on a real life problem. There was certainly nothing self-conscious about the Cardiff setting, bringing the play home to Wales only emphasised the universality of its theme. What we did get from Artistic Director, Phil Clark, Jones and Steve Speirs as Frank, was that special jewel that is so satisfyingly theatre, whilst at the same time the characters are just such convincingly real people.

Speirs’ easy style, particularly in the early scenes, was so convincing, one wondered if this was a lecturer from the university that had gone through the wrong door. And where was that door? The door that squeaks and sticks that Rita enters in and out of becoming more and more sophisticated as she does so. At the same time as he feeds Rita’s mind, its almost as if she is sucking the self-possession out of him, he becomes increasingly vulnerable.

I am still left wondering what Rita will do with all this education. Like Frank I did wonder, now she had absorbed the sensitivity and beauty of some of our great poets, did she still posses the same degree of innocent sincerity that was so much a part of her original personalit?. Speirs lets us see that he is very proud of his creation but he is also a little saddened by it. He gets very fond of her. She’s now the colourful butterfly ready to fly the world. Frank can’t seem to give any more, he’s lost control. Is this price for educating Rita worth the paying?

The play is un-rushed yet moves from each tutorial to the next with increasing pace. There is time to think, to enjoy the thoughts behind the words, to empathise with Rita and Frank. These two actors are so at one with each other, a formidable and consummately entertaining duo. A great play given a great production. A fine achievement for Phil Clark and The Sherman Theatre Company.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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