REVIEW: Educating Rita, The Customs House, South Shields, Until September 17

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.
Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.
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Sharp-witted and charming, Educating Rita is sure to entertain you.

Willy Russell’s famous play has been brought to the South Shields stage by ION Productions.

The writer himself gave his stamp of approval and this production, one of only four professional stagings this year, would do him proud, I’m sure.

It sees university lecturer Frank (Sean Kenney) become tutor to Open University student Rita (Laura Lonsdale).

He’s an alcoholic who’s taking the job to buy more whiskey, which he hides behind the books in his office, and she’s a 26-year-old married Scouse lass who wants to educate and better herself.

She’s a bit of a chav-tastic loud-mouth at first, and her ramblings to Frank about her life are very amusing.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

The great thing about the character is that although she wants to change things about herself and learn more about literature and poetry, she doesn’t change who she is – she remains true to herself the entire time.

With just two people on stage, and Kenney barely leaving it at all, the show is essentially quite static, but it doesn’t feel that way at all.

Neil Armstrong’s direction keeps things ticking by nicely and going strong throughout.

The bond between the characters, through everything from their appreciation of poetry to their grumbles about their lives, is brilliant.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

These are two very different people who develop a wonderful connection and watching it blossom is just lovely.

The set – Frank’s office – is wonderful. The real and seemingly well-read books strewn across the floor, piled on chairs and packed tight in a bookcase give it such an authentic feel.

The staging is stunning and the characters are wonderfully acted, and a special mention has to go to Kenney’s drunk acting. Watching him struggle to get up off the floor was hilarious.

Lonsdale’s Liverpool accent is brilliant, it never falters and her character’s attempt at ‘speaking properly’ was rib-tickling.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

Laura Lonsdale as Rita and Sean Kenney as Frank.

Seeing her character change and grow throughout the show was encouraging and rewarding. There are things we’d all like to do and achieve, and watching Rita do it gives you a sense of satisfaction.

The costumes, by David Gibson, say a lot. The subtle changes in the way Rita dresses up to her dramatic makeover by the end really show how she’s grown as a person.

Two-handers can be difficult to pull off, but Educating Rita kept me hooked throughout.

The first act was a little long though. At one point, I began to wonder if it was a one-act play. I was entertained throughout, but did start to get a little fidgety towards the end of act one.

But this character-driven show is charming, entertaining and rewarding.

Educating Rita runs at the Customs House until Saturday, September 17. Click here to book tickets.