Last weekend, as a vaguely birthday-treat outing, we all went off to Derby Theatre to see Educating Rita. It's a play I'm familiar with from the Michael Caine/Julie Walters film but I've never seen it performed live, so I was curious how it would compare.
We booked a little on the late side, and ended up nearly central but almost at the back; even so Derby's single tier, banked auditorium gives a good view from anywhere as I think you can see from this shot I took before the performance started.
David Birrell played Frank, a university lecturer forced into taking on an Open University student (Rita, played by Jessica Baglow) for the extra cash. He's not looking forward to it at all, but Rita proves to be a breath of fresh air wafting through his sheltered, blinkered academic life. She's looking for something more to life than hairdressing and having children - an idea that doesn't go down well with her husband.
Although there were obvious similarities with the film - after all it's give or take the same script, Rita is always Liverpudlian and Frank on the slightly posh side - it didn't in any way feel like just a stage version of it. The most noticeable aspect was staging - the film gets to play around with a variety of locations; the play takes place in one, Frank's university study/office - but I was also struck with how it seemed funnier. The lines are the same, Peer Gynt still looks best on the radio, but Birrell and Baglow put their own twists on the delivery and timing, and of course there was packed house laughing at them,which you don't get sitting at home watching a dvd. It's awhile since I've been to the theatre and I don't think I could have found a better play to lure me back.
I found an extra surprise when I got home and read the programme. Rita's favourite book Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown is an actual book. I'd never heard of it and always assumed it was a title dreamed up by Willy Russell to illustrate a point. I think I now need to read it!