Category Archives: Theatre Review

Educating Rita – Willy Russell


Hey guys! 

I’m on a massive countdown now until the summer. I just can’t wait. I’m so exhausted. I’m also a bit down about my reading. I either can’t get into books or I fall asleep. It’s frustrating me immensely! However, I have had a little treat recently, and that is to revisit Educating Rita. I’d kind of forgotten just how magical this play is. Then, my school for free trinkets to see this at Hull Truck which was equally awesome. (More on that later!) 

The play focuses on two characters, Rita, a working-class woman in her twenties from Liverpool and Frank, a late middle-aged professor at a university. The play begins with Rita arriving at Frank’s office. She’s there to be tutored after deciding to return to education to pass her exams. At the start, Frank is on the phone with Julia, his younger live in girlfriend. He claims he will be going to the pub on the way home. This becomes a prominent image in the play. 

“Life is such a rich and frantic whirl that I need the drink to help me step delicately through it.”

Like a whirlwind, Rita enters bold and brash but utterly charming. She focuses her attention onto a nude painting on the wall that Frank claims to never look at anymore. She jokes with him and gives her opinions on various matters without holding back. Frank is amused and intrigued by her. He offers her a drink, revealing numerous bottles as the play progresses behind a number of books. 

“But if you wanna change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y’? Know like I’m doin’…tryin’ to do. Do you think I will? Think I’ll be able to do it.”

Frank presses Rita to know why she is there. She wants to learn everything, much to Frank’s surprise. She is hungry to learn and tired of everyone around her. Her job as a hairdresser, where she has to listen to mundane chat every day is bringing her down. She teases Frank about needing a haircut, but he disagrees. 

Rita is naturally inquisitive. She starts to ask him questions like what assonance means. She tells him her real name is actually Susan, but she prefers to be known as Rita after the author of her favourite book, Rubyfruit Jungle, which she repeatedly presses him to read. 

Rita reveals how she wants to improve herself, but her husband Denny does not understand why she wants to do this. Frank agrees to teach her but informs her of how he is openly disillusioned with education. He tells her that once he is done telling her she should go and not come back. Eventually, he tries to get rid of her, but she pursues him as her tutor. 

Rita continues to come for her lessons and Frank has usually been drinking. Frank enquires about her experiences at school when she was younger. It is quite disheartening. People fought, argued and didn’t know any better. No one ever paid attention and anyone who wanted to learn was automatically an outsider. She went along with everyone else but started to wonder if she was missing something.  

“See if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.”

Attention then focuses onto a written response from Rita about her favourite book, Rubyfruit Jungle. Frank criticises her work for being too subjective with no literary criticism. Rita struggles with the concept of criticising something she likes. Discussion then moves onto a Forster book Frank had mentioned previously. She hated it! One thing she does learn though is that Frank wrote poetry. She pushes him to see some but he refuses. 

The more their conversations develop, the closer Rita and Frank become. Frank’s negativity towards the world is more and more apparently. He claims this would not be the case if Julia were more like Rita, but Rita just laughs these comments off. 

The tone seems to change in Act three because Rita rushes in, apologising for being late. It was because of a very talkative customer. Frank doesn’t seem annoyed about this, rather her answer on the staging of Peter Gynt seems to infuriate him. Rita admits it’s quite short and reveals to Frank a growing conflict at home regarding Denny and her education. Therefore, she has to write her essays at work. Discussion changes to culture, with Rita saying the working class has no culture. Frank tries to say they do, but Rita’s questioning making him realise that maybe she is right. 

Their next meeting is quite frosty as Frank is annoyed that Rita hasn’t got her essay. He eases when he realises that Denny has burnt all of her books and notes because he was mad at her for not taking the contraceptive pill and for going back to school. Rita explains his reasoning for it, how he feels betrayed and how they already have choices in their lives. Yet, Rita knows they don’t. Rita decides that they need to have fun and go to the theatre. Frank joins her, despite it being an amateur production. Rita’s love for the theatre grows as she boasts about seeing a Shakespeare play. 

“But it’s not takin’ the place of life, it’s providing’ me with life. He wants to take life away from me; he wants me to stop rockin’ the coffin, that’s all.”

Frank invites Rita to a dinner party Julia is giving; Rita agrees but she doesn’t turn up. She later reveals to Frank that Denny did not want her to go and she felt nervous and underdressed. She obsessed about bringing the wrong wine. Frank tries to explain how none of that matters and she just needed to be her charming self, but Rita is offended. She wasn’t going to provide the ‘banter’ for anyone. 

“…I don’t wanna spend the night takin’ the piss, comin’ on with the funnies because that’s the only way I can get into the conversation. I didn’t want to come to your house just to play the court jester.”

At the next meeting, Rita comes in upset with a bag of her belongings. She tells of how her and Denny have split up and she is going to live with her mother. She begs Frank to keep on teaching her, to change her. She refuses to give up, despite Frank telling her she is fine. He gives in and does as Rita asks. 

Over time, Rita becomes more and more like the other students. She gets herself a new flat mate, a new job at a bistro and makes new friends. She also starts to speak without her trademark Liverpudlian accent. On the other hand, Frank is drinking more, troubles with Julia remain and is saddened by the changes he sees in Rita. 

“I have merely decided to talk properly. As Trish says there is not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice.”

Things take a turn for the worst when Rita next arrives as Frank is frantically packing his books. He tells of how the university suggested he take a sabbatical because of his drinking. Rita tries to sympathise with him, but his attitude and negativity towards her exam paper make her angry. She yells at him saying he told her to be objective and to do her research, which she has done. She claims he does not want her to have her own thoughts. But, their fight fizzles out when he says he read and enjoyed Rubyfruit Jungle. 

Their meetings start to dwindle because of Rita’s busy schedule. Frank is drinking even more and seems somewhat jealous of Rita’s new friends, in particular a young student called Tyson. He and Rita are fighting more, but he does sign her up for her exam. After the exam Rita returns and tells him she wanted to write something sarcastic, but she ended up writing a thoughtful answer. She admits she is still learning about life, but that Frank was a good teacher. Frank doesn’t believe her. He is depressed and getting ready to go to Australia without Julia. 

There is a pause and Rita says she has something to give him. The play concludes with Rita sitting him down, taking out her scissors to give him a haircut. 

“I never thought there was anything’ I could give you. But there is. Come here, Frank…”

This play really is cracking. It showcases the beauty of education and what it can do to people. It also shows the power of friendship; Rita and Frank need each other. This play naturally appeals to the educator in me, but it works on other levels. Who doesn’t want to better themselves?! The production at Hull Truck Theatre was also brilliant. It is a play you have to see. 


Big love xx

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Filed under Book review, Drama, Theatre Review

Wendy and Peter Pan – RSC, Stratford upon Avon 

  

Happy new year everyone! 

Hope you’re all well and 2016 has started off in the best way for you. My new year started with a visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford upon Avon with my best friend to see Wendy and Peter Pan. There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing, clever, magical and funny this show is. Being the grand young age of 25 means that we got tickets for £5 too. Such a bargain! 

I should just state here that all photos used in this post are from the RSC website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/wendy-and-peter-pan/about-the-play

  


Plot:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the title of this production is an inversion of the original, placing emphasis on Wendy as well as Peter. Ella Hickson, writer and adapter of Wendy and Peter Pan, was really clear that in the original it was Peter having all of the fun, whereas Wendy was just playing mother. She wanted to tell her version from Wendy’s perspective. 

There are many aspects that are true to the original: Peter, the Lost Boys, Neverland, flying, Tink, Hook. They have just been tweaked and changed for a modern audience. It must be noted that a modern audience is both adults and children. There is humour for youngsters and intricate plot details for the adults. From start to finish the laughter echoed from the walls from young and old alike. A particular favourite part of mine, when Wendy was teaching the Lost Boys how to shake hands and say “How do you do” Curly says: 

“How do I do you?”

Also, to differ from the original plot, Hickson invents a third sibling, Tom, who suffers from an sickness. This is where the older, more metaphorical interpretations of the novel are explored through drama. 

  


Casting and characters:
Firstly, I need to say how brilliant this production cast were. There were a range of ages within the production team as well as experience, but all were equally amazing. 

Wendy, played by Mariah Gale, was exceptional. She portrays her devotion, rejection, hurt and happiness all explicitly and effectively. She was a fabulous Wendy. Her brother, Tom, is always at the front of her mind. She’s desperate to find him, for him to be with the Lost Boys. Thus, she can make herself happy again. 

Peter Pan, played by Rhys Rusbatch, was sublime. He played the part of Pan really well, focussing clearly on how he never wants to grow up. The cheeky chappy is portrayed not only through dialogue but also his gestures. His flying, and his shadow should be praised equally too. 

Hook and Smee, played by Darrell D’Silva and Paul Kemp respectively, were the epitome of the villain character. The banter between the two was hilarious and true to the original text. The relationship was portrayed really accurately. They made me smile, but I could see the children in the audience really boo-ing them. Always the sign of a good villain. 

Martin, played by Adam Gillen, was the pirate who couldn’t ARRR. I recognised his voice, he has naturally humorous tone to his voice. (I finally remembered he was from ITV’s Benidorm!) The audience naturally feels for him because he’s quite clearly not a pirate and he’s clearly not a Lost Boy, so he doesn’t really fit with anyone. 

Finally, and perhaps my favourite of all the characters in this production, Tinkerbell, played by Charlotte Mills. A cockney, naughty pixie. Who’d have thought it?! Her one liners, her reactions, her movements were just incredible. I laughed so hard at her. She’s just amazing. 

“Oh, a little blab, did you? Lack of oxygen up there on your high horse?” 

  

Setting:

Staying true to the original, the production was set in the children’s nursery or Neverland. The nursery, with swords, beds, teddies and a mobile was really picturesque. (Image by me) Then when it came to Peter’s home, the stage came alive from the ground upwards, with Tink hanging on from a bed, a bath tub and fairy lights. Hook’s ship was also an incredible piece of craftsmanship. A whole ship on stage. Just wow! 

  

  
All in all, it was pure magic. Glitter, flying, ships and laughter. I want to see it again! It was just the best way to start this year off. 

So I left feeling like I always do, incredibly lucky to have the RSC on my doorstep at home. 

  

Big love x

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Filed under RSC, Stratford upon Avon, Theatre Review

Of Mice and Men – The National Theatre Live 

  

Hi everyone! 

So this week I (and a number of students) saw Of Mice and Men in my local cinema at a screening of a National Theatre Live production. I reviewed the book recently, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to review this stage version as well. I’ve never reviewed a stage production before, so fingers crossed that this goes well! 

I just want to say how amazing the National Theatre live actually are. This production was from Broadway, New York. There was no way I was ever going to get there to see this. By having it recorded live, audience and all, then streamed back to my local area meant that we have golden opportunities on our door step to see amazing productions from around the world. Thank you! 

Here goes! 

Casting and characters:

George and Lennie were played by James Franco and Chris O’Dowd respectively. I found this casting to be brilliant. What incredibly talented actors these men are. As a lover of Chris O’Dowd I was already expecting amazing things. He didn’t fail to deliver. His every move, the twitches, the way he spoke and reacted was perfect for Lennie. I found myself unable to take my eyes off his hands. He was very much the bear like character Steinbeck created and described him to be. 

James Franco as George was interesting for me. In the opening scene when they had ran from Weed to their next ranch I found George a little too angry. I had never read into his character as angry towards Lennie. Frustrated yes, angry no. At one point in this discussion Lennie was portrayed as being terrified, arms covering his head. It was uncomfortable to see – a sure sign of outstanding acting – getting an emotional response from your audience. However, when George was protecting Lennie I was completely sold. The emotions between them felt genuine and real. The looks between the two made me feel like no one else mattered. That protection was played to perfection. 

The only let down in terms of the portrayal of characters for me was from Curley and his wife, played by Alex Morf and Leighton Meester respectively. Whilst I have no right or qualifications to judge their acting, and please don’t think I am, I expected more from the representation of them. Curley needs to be masculine and aggressive, constantly looking for a fight. I didn’t get that from this Curley. He never raised his voice or appeared to pose a threat. In fact, George appeared to have more aggression than Curley. 

Curley’s Wife was every inch the character she portrayed: beautiful, lonely, awkward and talkative. Yet, something was missing. She failed to have that power behind her to stand up for herself. In Crook’s cabin, a crucial line I was sat waiting for never came. “Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” The one time Curley’s Wife has power, and in this production she is stripped of it. 

Nevertheless, I found casting generally brilliant. I had a view on each and every one of them. They brought the stage to life. 

Image from the Independent. 

  



Setting:

Despite seeing this in a large cinema, I’ve probably never felt so claustrophobic in my life. I went hot and my palms started sweating. The setting was really rather incredible. The intense, cramped feel was brought to life with the corregated iron and prison camp beds. When all actors were on stage, I felt trapped with them. It was unnerving but excellently done. As well as this, the brush and the river brought Steinbeck’s description to life. It was probably one of the best stage settings I’ve ever seen. It embodied the dystopian feel of this period for men in America. 

Image from backstage.com

  



Plot:

If my memory serves me well, this adaptation stuck to Steinbeck’s original text well. I only missed a couple things. The first, as discussed above, the missing quote from Curley’s Wife. However, what was impressive, the main quotes we all know and remember were emphasised to show their significant meanings. When Lennie cries out “I don’t like this place, George. It ain’t no good place. I wanna get outa here” boy did I believe it. It’s true! I wanted to be out of that trapped, imprisoned setting too. 

Secondly, I missed the emotion from Candy when his dog was killed. Yes he lay in silence, but the quote “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog” was also missing. This quote draws parallels to the ending and it needs to be there. Whilst I felt awful for Candy, I knew that feeling came from me knowing the novel. 

Nevertheless, it stayed true to the text. They explored the themes in depth and the portrayal of the novel was accurate throughout. 

Image from ifccentre.com

  


Overview:

Overall, I found this to be an inspiring, excellent and uncomfortable production. I felt like the men must have done on the ranches – utterly trapped and alone. I had to hold back tears in the final scene between Lennie and George. The tears from James Franco didn’t help there, but again they felt real and genuine. 

Thank you National Theatre for bringing New York, and this incredible production to my door step. Magical! 

Image from Google

  

Big love all xx

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Filed under Literature, Theatre Review