Review – Educating Rita, Menier Chocolate Factory

Monday 30 April 2012

Saturday evening.

Philly-no-mates had nothing booked in the diary. What to do? Take up an impromptu offer (presumably no one else being available) to revisit the Menier Chocolate Factory‘s Educating Rita now starring Claire Sweeney as the titular heroine or stay in on his tod and flick restlessly between TV ‘talent’ shows.

Sweeney or tod?

Phil dithered. He doesn’t normally like visiting the theatre on a Saturday evening* and whilst the decision was not exactly on a par with Sophie’s Choice he weighed up the options fastidiously. The Whingers had enjoyed it enormously two years ago; surely only disappointment would ensue.

Happily this proved not to be the case. Willy Russell‘s fable (director Tamara Harvey) of a Liverpool hairdresser’s desire to better herself through education proved as endearing and funny as remembered. Perhaps remembered may not be the correct word. The memory of a goldfish can be somewhat advantageous; the script came across as if he was hearing it all for the first time.

This was not inconsiderably helped by the charm and seemingly natural chemistry between Matthew Kelly as Frank, Rita’s Open University tutor and Sweeney (the daughter of a butcher apparently! We must anticipate her Mrs Lovett). And it is not meant as an insult to say how impressed he was by Sweeney’s convincing Scouse accent, which, being unfamiliar with the legend of Brookside (she was Lindsey Corkhill in the soap), he had no idea is how she normally talks. Rita wasn’t the only one getting an education.

But what stuck Phil was how well-structured, witty and warmly entertaining the piece remains. Rita’s logical responses to learning are frequently hilarious.

The only real whinge is the decision to insert an interval (it was 1hr 40 minutes previously). Oh and that the book-laden set of Frank’s office isn’t raised above basic floor level so you can only see the players from the shoulders up when they’re seated, presumably as it has to accommodate larger theatres when it tours after its brief run at the Menier. Oh and…


* What is it with Saturday night audiences? Things were being knocked over and dropped throughout the show and it sounded as if some had smuggled bottles into the auditorium (had Andrew sneaked in?). At least Phil and his fellow-theatregoer had brought in their wine in plastic cups. Ok, admittedly these were copious amounts of plonk but Phil’s excuse is that he was still working on the no interval theory.

And a special mention must go to the couple seated next to us. They only squished along in their seats reluctantly when tickets with seat numbers were produced, fanned themselves throughout the play causing the bench seating to rock, clunked the ice in their drinks noisily and then (we assume – forensics are on the case) stole Phil’s companion’s programme at the interval. Grrr. It’s Britain’s Got Talent from now on.


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