THEATRE REVIEW: Darlinghurst TAP Gallery Theatre - Educating Rita

In the cosy, enclosed space of Darlinghurst’s TAP Gallery Theatre, where the front row sit so close to the action they could trip the actors with a well-placed foot, Educating Rita sees a fiercely intimate relationship unfold between a teacher and his student.
THEATRE REVIEW: Darlinghurst TAP Gallery Theatre - Educating Rita
In the cosy, enclosed space of Darlinghurst’s TAP Gallery Theatre, where the front row sit so close to the action they could trip the actors with a well-placed foot, Educating Rita sees a fiercely intimate relationship unfold between a teacher and his student. The two characters come and go, but we can never follow them. Instead, we must sit still and await their constant re-entries, watching, with almost voyeuristic intensity, the development of a psychological, rather than sexual, liaison. Playwright Willy Russell’s Educating Ritais an old favourite now. First performed in London nearly 30 years ago, it was soon adapted into a highly acclaimed film and continues to delight theatre audiences with its two brilliantly drawn characters and a vivacious flow of one-liners. Yet it is Russell’s exploration of the nature of class distinctions and education and the basic human pursuit of self-knowledge that gives the play its lasting and universal impact. For Educating Ritais not simply another entertaining re-hash of the Pygmalion tale, nor is it merely a reality check for the literary-minded. Instead, it often reaches heights of tragicomic genius despite, or perhaps because of, its irreverence. Frank is a university English literature professor who finds he must take on an Open University student to pay for all the grog he keeps in his bookshelf. Rita is the 26-yr-old hairdresser who bursts into his office in a whirlwind of brashness and 80’s fashion statements, desperate to get an education. As Michael Ross and Catherine McGraffin exchange repartee in the spot-on set - which could well be the twin of my old English literature professor’s office - the tragedy inherent in Frank and Rita’s relationship soon materialises. It is a tragedy entirely un-melodramatic in its proportions – the tragedy of two people who cannot see themselves even as they (metaphorically speaking) chase each other around the room with a mirror. McGraffin’s Rita is beautifully realised. Her accent a pitch-perfect Liverpudlian, she inhabits the character’s every mood with all the subtle nuances required when playing such a larger-than-life personality. There is a great sense of timing to all her deliveries, whether funny or serious, and she is triumphantly endearing throughout. Playing opposite the beautiful and talented McGraffin, who shines so much I found it hard to take my eyes off her, was always going to be a big ask of any performer. The seasoned Ross, a regular at the Ensemble Theatre, ought to have been up to it, but he does not really seem to be trying very hard and could not even manage a moderately English accent. Ross’s delivery of Russell’s magic witticisms was fair and generally received a laugh, but the character of Frank remained somewhere in the background and never quite materialised. His chat-up lines lacked sparkle and it was impossible to see how this middle-aged, almost conventional-looking man had managed to convince another of his lovely young students to shack up with him. When Rita tells Frank she’s determined he will remain her tutor “because you’re a crazy mad piss-artist who wants to throw his students through the window: I like yer,” we may fall in love with Rita, but we can’t quite agree with her appraisal of Frank. Despite this imbalance between the two actors, new independent producers Anna Cottrell and Anna Crawford (who also directs) show great promise. Simple on/off lighting for scene changes and a classical music soundtrack that matches the flow of the story without ever intruding are examples of a lightness of touch that is common to all areas of the production. These graduates of Sydney’s prestigious Ensemble Studios have excelled in their creation of a vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable staging of a modern classic. Darlinghurst’s TAP Gallery Theatre -Educating Rita by Willy Russell. Directed by Anna Crawford Produced by Anna Cottrell & Anna Crawford Starring Catherine McGraffin & Michael Ross 10-22 March (Preview Tues 10 March) Tuesday to Saturday 8pm, Sun 5pm TAP Gallery Theatre 278 Palmer St, Darlinghurst Tickets $25 and $20 conc. Preview/Tight Tues all tix $16 Book 1300 GET TIX (438 849) or www.moshtix.com.au Last minute bookings <3 hours before show 0414 725 648

Jennie Sharpe

Monday 16 March, 2009

About the author

Jennie Sharpe is a poet, freelance writer and editor. She has published a collection of poetry in the book Australia: Facing the South and is also a novelist and short story writer. Jennie studied literature and theatre and is a classically trained musician. She is passionate about film, theatre, opera and visual art and is currently a sub-editor and contributor for French Provincial magazine.