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Review: Educating Rita at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

Willy Russell's unwaveringly popular stage play is on at the Arts Theatre until Saturday (August 3).

Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson in Educating Rita
Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson in Educating Rita

Famously made into an award-winning film in the early 1980s starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, Educating Rita tells the simple but heart-warming story of Rita, a married hairdresser who enrolls on a university course to expand her horizons.

Her tutor Frank is a frustrated poet, brilliant academic and committed drinker who is initially less than enthusiastic about taking Rita on, but the two soon become close and realise just how much they have to teach each other.

This bitter sweet comedy won the Olivier award when it was produced in London’s West End by the RSC.

Stephen Tompkinson stars as Frank and Jessica Johnson is Rita in this new production, which, unlike the film, only features two characters and one room - Frank's office at the university.

Also, some of the jokes are perhaps a little more 'risqué' than in the film but very funny due to Rita's adorable and engaging personality and infectious enthusiasm for life and learning.

Educating Rita
Educating Rita

Both actors play their parts brilliantly and are wholly believable - in fact I would even go as far as to say that I preferred Jessica Johnson's portrayal of the character to Julie Walters' in the film version.

The combination of laughter one minute and sadness and drama the next make for a thrilling emotional roller coaster of a play and my companion and I shed a few tears just before the end of the first half.

The warmth and mutual dependence between Frank and Rita grew during the second half, as dramatic changes to both their private lives came into effect, making for a moving climax - and I found myself shedding more tears at the conclusion.

A must-see for fans of the movie and for those who enjoy wonderful theatre with solid acting performances, catch Educating Rita before it moves on to the next town.

Educating Rita is on now until Saturday, August 3.

Show starts at 7.45pm every day, with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday (August 1) and Saturday.

Tickets: £20 - £40. All ticket prices include a £3 per-ticket booking fee.

Box office: 01223 503333, or cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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