Educating Rita is acting class by leads

Willy Russell’s classic play Educating Rita is a multi-layered, profoundly moving yet funny two hander which demands an acting masterclass from its two leads.  

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 12:05 pm
Carol Bailey as rita and Jerry Harvey as Frank in Educating Rita.  Picture: Chris Iredale.
Carol Bailey as rita and Jerry Harvey as Frank in Educating Rita. Picture: Chris Iredale.

Cue Carol Bailey and Jerry Harvey who rise to the challenge magnificently in a brilliant production staged by the Pateley Bridge Dramatic Society.

This is an impressive tour de force from both actors, powered not only by their superb acting ability but also the subtle chemistry between them which seeps through all the nuances of the script.  

The text is a powerful and poignant analysis of social class, identity and self-worth seen through the prism of this beautifully odd couple - polar opposites in circumstance but sharing an emptiness of the soul.

Carol Bailey plays Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita who wants to shift away from her working class identity through education.

She seeks to better herself by signing up for an Open University course where she is taught by jaded academic and dedicated drinker Frank, played by Jerry Harvey. 

From the opening encounter their chemistry is palpable as Frank’s passion for literature is reignited by Rita whose enthusiasm defeats her lack of formal education.

Carol is a true life force in this role - an indefatigable Scouser, ambitious, loud and feisty with just the right mix of comedy and pathos.

Full marks also to the sublime Liverpudlian accent and quirky body language - the expressive physicality alone deserved its own round of applause. 

Jerry anchored the piece right from the opening scene with a masterful and heartbreaking portrayal of world-weariness. 

Dishevelled and disillusioned, he has smothered his failings in alcohol - but is fired up by the electric jolt of Rita’s potential and realises how much they can teach each other. 

The subsequent discussions between the pair on literature are life affirming, both on and off stage - you could have heard a pin drop as Jerry deconstructed literary criticism and expounded on Macbeth.

Rita was absorbed and so were the audience - a tribute not only to the clever script but also to Jerry’s impassioned delivery. 

The final act after Rita had attended summer school was deeply moving as Carol portrayed her character’s transformation with immense subtlety.

Freshly liberated by education, she was confident yet calm, even gently toning down her accent without losing the Scouse spark.

The balance of power quietly shifted, culminating in a bitter-sweet farewell as Frank departs for Australia on sabbatical. 

As the curtains closed, the audience rose to its feet. This was a great play performed by two great actors who fully deserved a standing ovation. 

Congratulations also to the director Sue Hickson and her excellent set building and backstage crews for adapting so well to the new venue of the Memorial Hall.

The much loved Playhouse is in the throes of refurbishment but, as always, a superb team effort delivered a memorable night irrespective of location.