Mill at Sonning
Thurs Jan 22
Educating Rita is a classic play, Willy Russell's tribute to his own working class roots and the middle class writer he became. Don't mess with it unless you can deliver. The Mill At Sonning delivers with interest and a bonus payment.
Theirs is a superb production of a very tough two-hander offering new insights into the characters. It takes a proper actress to play Rita and Laura Doddington is precisely that: she must change from being a blousy, dreamy unaware hairdresser to a gobby intellectual and each stage has to show a slight but important difference.
Among many things this is a story of unrequited love: Rita starts an OU course to better herself and meets the old soak Frank as her tutor. The two spark fireworks from the beginning as she befriends, then admires him, before becoming estranged from his stagnating ways.
She's helped by subtle costume and hair changes but it's her attitude which is developed so impressively. She's the woman who wants more out of life than just blind reaction and babies and she gets it; her working class ambition is satisfied, she is born anew.
While Doddington's performance is magnificent, Stuart Fox's functioning alcoholic, Frank, is outstanding. This is the fourth production of Educating Rita this reviewer has seen and by far the best in a very good field because of Fox's interpretation of this wizened, disillusioned middle-class drunk.
We feel his alienation and despair from the very opening seconds and it never lets up: while Rita bounds ahead learning, hoovering up ideas and taking stances, Frank sits back in his stew of alcohol and bemoans the fact that he is what he is.
I've never been quite so convinced by a Frank as I was by Fox. Previous versions have seen maybe a glimmer of hope, some light perhaps which would save him. But Cox sees the darkness in the character and plumbs it fully and wonderfully. We know, when he packs up for a fresh start in Australia at the end, that he will take his drink and misery with him and nothing will change except the climate.
The Mill At Sonning has a reputation for doing what it does to the highest professional standards but this production not only reaches those, it gives us a profound look at a great play for which director Robin Herford can be proud.
Until March 21.
Includes a two course meal.