Educating Rita by Willy Russell.Paradox Theatre directed by Ivor Selby, with Margaret Forster and Peter Morris. Currong Theatre, Gorman House March 11 - 14 and 18 – 21, 1998.
Paradox Theatre is not easy to pigeonhole. Like coral on the Barrier Reef, Canberra spawns theatre companies. This group has survived for three years with no funding, on projects ranging from Amnesty International fund-raisers, work for other companies (Wildwood's Bod and Artistories for The Company in 1997) to productions of Terry Pratchett and now Educating Rita.
I think the unifying link in this apparently eclectic history is sincerity of intention and professionalism, even when, of this production's director and actors only Margaret Forster demonstrates any professional training.
Selby has taken this play seriously, even though Frank, the debilitated academic, criticises Rita for her unfashionable Marxist analysis of literature (while she at this point is too academically naive to know that this is what she is doing). This production is worth seeing because it reveals the relevance of Marx's concept of the alienated worker. Rita arrives with a sense of alienation that only learning can resolve - but paradoxically her success almost undermines her tutor Frank's sense of his own worth.
This production is not played for laughs or simple romanticism - as the popular film was - but the humour is not lost. In fact I preferred the greater irony in the laughs, which came from a much sadder picture of the failed poet and an often harder woman determined to establish her freedom. I saw the place of this play in the G.B.Shaw tradition which I hadn't seriously considered before: an inevitable comparison with Pygmalion.
The direction needs more depth in characterisation and control of the momentary shifts in relationship between Frank and Rita; while Peter Morris needs to learn to express frustration and despair without the audible huffing which is common in amateur actors trying to "emote". But he made up for this in the difficult - paradoxically sobering - drunken scenes. Margaret Forster has nice timing, voice, movement and mood changes, and for me carries the play. Sound, lighting and costumes are excellent.
Overall, an interesting first night, with the promise of performances settling in well.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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