Theatre: Does Rita still speak to us after all these years?

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Are women still perennially cast as housewives or mothers – unable to become the people they hoped and dreamed they could evolve into?

When Russell was asked the question of relevance, he pointed out that a modern version of Rita would be rather different. “People don’t see education as a route to salvation in the way they did in the year this was written,” he explained.

“The idea then of working-class people returning to education was in the air, it was a new and vibrant thing, and the collision of those worlds, of the non-educated and the rather elite red brick university, was a massive collision, but all of that has gone now.”

That’s all true. Yet, while education is seen less as a route to salvation, and education is more readily available, there is little doubt that working-class people are far less likely and able to pursue upward mobility simply because they can’t afford to spend time not earning. In that sense, the glass ceiling still exists.

And Russell’s play is timeless, in the sense it’s a piece about human need and the power of connection.

The relationship between the working-class hairdresser who knew more of Kim Wilde than Oscar Wilde and the class lecturer accentuated the reality that both Rita and Frank were stunted individuals who came to support and encourage each other.

Indeed, Rita begins the relationship from a position of weakness, but as the play progresses and she finds her strengths and confidence – and we discover Frank to be a failed poet who relies upon the bottle to get him through his days – it’s Rita who holds the power position. She becomes his muse.

The award-winning play also reveals how relationships can be formed by the unlikeliest couples. Educating Rita is in fact a love story, in that two people come together and form a connection that is unbreakable.

Now, former Coronation Street star Gray O’Brien (the Scot was once the British Soap Awards Villain of the Year ) is taking on the role made famous by Michael Caine in the 1983 film version.

Rachael-Rose McLaren plays Rita, who was played by Julie Walters alongside Caine. McLaren was last seen in Perth Theatre in November 2022 in the sell-out National Theatre of Scotland production Enough of Him, about Joseph Knight, a Perthshire-based enslaved African man, and his bid for freedom.

The new production is directed by the multi-talented actor/writer Martin McCormick, “I’m thrilled to be directing Educating Rita as it’s very much what I’d consider to be a modern classic,” he enthuses.

“It’s the typical clash of cultures formula between teacher and pupil that can be traced back to Pygmalion and beyond. Rita seeks to enlighten herself with the help of university professor, Frank. There is loads going against her; family, class, her gender. But the major stumbling block is Frank himself.”

The director adds: “Educating Rita contains all the hallmarks of what audiences love in a play. It’s funny, entertaining, thought-provoking and – even after the 40 plus years since Willy Russell wrote it – very relevant.”

Educating Rita, Perth Theatre, March 16-April 1

 

A THEATRICAL TREAT

WHAT happens when you splice elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with the 1956 sci-fi classic film Forbidden Planet and blast them with B-movie sensibilities and rock ‘n’ roll hits? The answer is not rocket science, it’s a theatre show that will guarantee galaxy-sized laughs.

The Olivier-award-winning musical Forbidden Planet is back in Glasgow. The mad-cap story tells how Captain Tempest, while making an emergency landing on the uncharted planet D’Illyria, discovers the only residents to be the crazed scientist Doctor Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and their roller-skating robot Ariel.

We learn they were banished into hyperspace when Miranda was a baby. For good measure we have a Greek chorus character appearing on film to help with the overview, and the laughs.

There are certainly lots of laughs and silliness – set in iambic pentameters – to be gleamed from the mixture of quotations and cod Shakespeare. When Prospero admits to playing mind games, he declares: “Beware the ids of March.” Groovy and clever. What’s not to love?

Bob Carlton’s storyline slides the songs in perfectly. When Miranda gets her first glimpse of a man other than her father and her sex boosters go into overdrive, it’s to the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations. Other musical classics landing on the wacky planet include The Monster Mash, All Shook Up, and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

When romance develops between Captain Tempest and Miranda, the ship’s chef ,Cookie, also falls for her, prompting the inevitable Why Must I Be A Teenager in Love? Poor Prospero has to cope with these men pursing his daughter. But that’s not the only sub-plot. Prospero’s ex-wife Gloria makes a bold case for the need to have more women in space. Her big song? It’s A Man’s World. Groovy, or what?

Return to Forbidden Planet, Websters Theatre, Glasgow, March 2-3


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