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Educating Rita (Salford)

Willy Russell's classic is as relevant as it's always been - in the capable hands of the Library Theatre and Cornerhouse, says Glenn Meads.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Gillian Kearney as Willy Russell's Rita.
© Jonathan Keenan

The Library Theatre - at the Lowry, Salford

With education still a major kicking post - as many students put off doing a degree as an 'experience' due to the costs - Willy Russell's Educating Rita is as relevant as it ever was.

Gone are the golden days of higher education when you studied English Literature because you wanted to read, explore and discover. Now, students are forced to think about courses with vocational links from a very early age.

Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita breezes into Open University Lecturer Frank's life on a promise. She wants to learn everything he knows. It's not going to be easy, as this feisty young woman has been pigeonholed and those closest to her cannot see why she would want to be educated.

Slowly but surely, though, she looks forward to her weekly visits with Frank and they discuss the likes of Peer Gint, The Seagull, Howards End and so much more. But this is not one way - Frank learns a great deal about himself as Rita blossoms in his care. His drink problem is magnified, as Rita expects him to be on form and on task.

Even though Russell wrote this in the 1980's, it still strikes a chord, as the characters are so engaging and the topics they discuss remain as pertinent today.

As Rita, Gillian Kearney brings an earthiness to the role and she nails the 'knowing' wit and poignancy which ground her. As Frank, Philip Bretherton has the unshowy role but he delivers - particularly when conveying his anger and frustration.

Chris Honer is faithful to the original but he also makes sure there is pace, so that it adds up to far more than two people talking in one room. Judith Croft's set design is as sublime as ever, as it highlights how Frank's chaotic life can be forgotten when he is surrounded by such literary geniuses on his book shelves.

As the run goes on the two performers will truly inhabit these roles, and I would love to go back on the last day. But for now, this fascinating look at how education can inspire someone that many have written off is still far more exciting and vibrant than double Maths ever was.