Educating Rita @ Theatre Royal
Of course, I had my reservations - a man name-checked for being quintessentially naff by indie legends Half Man Half Biscuit alongside Lindsay 'Our Linz' Corkhill from Brookie? Go ‘ead, soft la. But after a shaky start, in which Matthew Kelly swaggered around and Claire Sweeney seemed to confirm my worst fears by shrieking in a one-note performance, both she and Kelly relaxed into their roles - and into the richness of Willy Russell’s warm and witty dialogue.
For anyone who hasn’t seen or heard of it (and there must be some left), the classic re-imagining of Pygmalion set in the 80s is a tender tale of Susan, who changes her name to Rita, a bubbly Scouse girl desperate for “a better song to sing,” yearning to escape her restrictive life and husband and giving alcoholic Frank, who puts the lech in lecturer, a fresh unjaded pair of eyes with which to see the world.
It’s not perfect by any means - it is unclear with this particular staging when it is actually set, with its reference to karaoke and an almost 70s wardrobe, but with charming and pithy performances by the unlikely pair who never leave the dusty confines of Frank’s university reading room, it doesn’t matter - as refreshing as a Pimms- or a 'sweet ‘n’ sparklin’ on a sunny afternoon. The class divide has rarely been so fun - feelgood, without feeling nauseous.