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Educating Rita

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Assembly George Square
1-27 August

In the month that Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers has announced {the surprise conclusion of its 24 year London run::E8831344267103}, Edinburgh sees the play that should be regarded as his true apotheosis.

The story of a university lecturer helping a Liverpudlian hairdresser to learn about English literature is best known from the Michael Caine/Julie Walters film. Like Lee Hall’s Pitmen Painters and even Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, Rita is about releasing potential and the power of esoteric pursuits to enrich lives.

Here, Frank shows Rita how to have a better mind; she shows him how to be a better man. The warmth and wit of the writing, charmingly displayed by Claire Sweeney and Matthew Kelly, remains undiminished after all these years. Even so, the linking jazz piano music (which sounds as if written for another show altogether) is an odd choice and a lot of the constant circumambulation is insufficiently motivated.

In David Mamet’s Oleanna, a character describes higher education as “something other than useful” and explores how erudition can be a lethal weapon. Russell, by contrast, shows that the engagement of the mind is the best way to enrich the heart. It remains one of the great British classics of the last 30 years.

- by Benet Catty


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