Educating Rita: 23rd-25th February 2006

The play by Willy Russell which was also produced as a well known film. The play just has the two actors, who are both on stage almost all of the time.

This production was entered into the Gloucestershire Drama Association’s Full Length Play Competition.
It won: Best Actress (Paula Fancini-Hooper)
And was nominated for: Best Actor (Geoff Guy) and Best Set

For me, one of the most satisfying acting experiences, thanks largely to Paul’s Fancini-Hooper, who did a difficult job excellently and was very easy to act with. Brenda Read-Brown directed and reviews were good.

Geoff Guy as Frank

GDA Full Length Play Competition Full Adjudication:

The Roses theatre in the centre of Tewkesbury is a wonderful venue for the company. It benefits from an inviting foyer and a comfortable raked auditorium, which allows good sightlines of the proscenium arch stage. The audience was mostly middle aged or older. They listened appreciatively to the pre-performance music. This set the tone well for the play, referencing it in the present day. First performed in 1980, it maintains its appeal and relevance very well more than twenty-five years on.
The curtains opened to reveal a box set. It may have been an idea to have them open as the audience came in. There was little of particular revelation in the set design. The intention was to give the impression of an untidy, “lived-in” university lecturer’s office. A desk was set on the diagonal, allowing good sightlines for Frank in his chair and across, more centre stage, to Rita. The only entrance was upstage centre, a curiously decorated door. A telephone table, upstage, stage left of the door, some bookcases and a stage-lit window, stage left, completed the set. A rug provided some warmth to the scene and the books, calendar and prints on the wall dressed the set. It was clear that some effort had been made to establish this as Frank’s room, in which he “lived and had his being but it remained a little soulless. Colour might have been added. Perhaps further piles of books and clutter of academia might have suggested the character’s stagnation? The calendar might have been turned between scenes to indicate the passage of time. This was cleverly and succinctly conveyed in Rita’s costume changes. The piles of books might have been shifted about, to indicate constant use of the room. Heaps of books might have been spread out to give the sense of chaos and change as Frank prepares to leave. The set was well used by the actors and afforded them ample space for movement.

The light from the window worked well, allowing some nice stage pictures of each character, side lit. There was good use of blue working light between scenes and the speed of scene change was good. Generally, there was no call for special light effects, but the stage was appropriately lit, both for day and evening scenes. The use of naturalistic lighting was maintained throughout, save for the spotlight on characters at specific moments of high emotion, notably Rita at the peak of her identity crisis.

Rita was not too brash in her outfits, her character might have allowed her more, but they were artfully worn so that removal of one item changed the outfit. The high heels were good. The transformation to “student look” would have been even more striking had the early outfits been very hairdresser. The character looked very comfortable in the red dress as her self-awareness and confidence grew. Frank looked suitably worn in his costume. His costume changes, although not as radical as Rita’s were effective and appropriate. He contrasted nicely with Rita.

Rita was very well played by Paula Fancini-Hooper. From the moment of her first entry, as she burst onto the stage, the audience believed in the character. Her connection with and delivery of lines was very strong. The pace and variety of emotion was always just right. Timing and judgment of a pause to create a particular effect was generally strong. Eye contact with Frank was excellent, as was the awareness of when to deliver the line away from him. There were some lovely gestures; the natural punctuation of speech with a cigarette; emphatic excited hand and arm gestures.

However, it was Ms Fancini-Hooper’s awareness of the audience that was so helpful in portraying the transition of the character. She shared moments, lines, looks with the audience and appeared to take them into her confidence. There was a good lightness of comic touch. Equally, Rita’s breakdown into tears was well performed. Her recovery might have been extended, but it worked in the context of the scene. It is no mean feat to have spent the whole evening talking in a Liverpudlian accent. If it was not completely accurate, it appeared so and was very acceptable to a Gloucestershire ear. Altogether the character of Rita seemed most believable.

Frank, played by Geoff Guy, became a convincing aging academic. Mr Guy artfully avoided gratuitous lasciviousness on the part of the character, which fact worked absolutely. His interpretation of the affection he felt for Rita and his jealousy over her interest in another male student was well judged. Nothing was overplayed. This was especially true of the scene in which Frank was drunk, which was very effective. The actor built a clear and strong relationship with his partner on stage, but might have given more to the audience, to build as insightful a bond with them. He is clearly an experienced performer. He had good command of the stage. He had good pace and demonstrated good understanding of the vocal needs of the role, although in moments of real passion, his voice might have been less constricted to let out the emotion. This was a sound performance and contributed well to the overall effect of the piece.

Direction by Brenda Read-Brown was clear, well paced and thoughtful. There was good use made of the stage, especially to underscore the emotions and action of the scene. There was a good bond of trust built up between the actors. The changes to the characters as they journeyed from the first to the last scene were marked by the rise and fall of emotional tension and comic moment. Ms Read-Brown ensured that the play was funny, moving and especially thought-provoking.

It is as great a challenge to direct and perform a two-handed play that takes place in a single room, as it is a large cast with multiple effects and scene changes. The pressures are different evidently, and in this production the audience was thoroughly and well entertained by the strong acting and sensitive direction. A most enjoyable evening! Thank you!