Educating Rita, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Monday, July 16, to Saturday, July 21 (From The Argus)
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Educating Rita, Theatre Royal Brighton, New Road, Monday, July 16, to Saturday, July 21
Educating Rita’s Brighton run will be something of a homecoming for director Tamara Harvey – who once appeared at the Theatre Royal Brighton as a page boy in a Northern Ballet version of Swan Lake.
Harvey, who grew up in the city from the age of four, is behind the revival of Willy Russell’s 1980 comedy-drama about a Liverpool hairdresser who decides to better herself at the Open University.
Taking the role made famous on the screen by Julie Walters is former Brookside star Claire Sweeney – who Harvey directed in the national tour of Tell Me On A Sunday.
And Matthew Kelly plays the jaded university professor Frank, who starts to believe in himself once more after Rita first struggles to get through his door.
“Rita was a role Claire has known and always wanted to play,” says Harvey. “It’s the first time I have worked with Matthew, but he is an actor I have admired for a long while. They have known each other for years – so that friendship was already established.
“One of the things we needed to work on in rehearsals was the fact that the characters aren’t comfortable with each other at the start of the play. They are coming at each other from totally different worlds.”
The play follows Rita and Frank through a year, as Rita comes to Frank’s office for her regular tutorials. As time goes on, the audience slowly see Rita’s character develop and outlook change – while Frank’s initial admiration turns to concern about the monster he has created.
Joining the two actors and director for the first week of rehearsals, ahead of the revival’s premiere at London’s The Menier Chocolate Factory, was the play’s writer Willy Russell, who even went as far as to rewrite some scenes.
“Willy was amazing – you would think he might be grand or protective of his play, or sick of answering questions about it,” says Harvey.
“He was so open and engaged, and still willing to make changes. He’s very much a writer who sees a play as a living, breathing thing that needs to be relevant to the actors who play it and the changing times. He’s not precious, but he absolutely knows what he wants and what the play needs.
“He was there for the first week of rehearsals, and came back for the run-throughs and previews.
“When he heard audience reactions to the play he changed certain lines, or he would come up with a new joke or moment between the two characters.”
Russell will be joining the team again when Educating Rita goes to the Edinburgh Festival – partly because the play will need to be cut for a shorter time slot.
“It’s one of those plays you don’t ever get bored of,”
says Harvey. “Itis so rich, and has somuch in it. Claire and Matthew are happy to keep doing it forever!”
As rehearsals ended for Educating Rita, Harvey found herself moving into an exciting new project – developing a musical version of From Here To Eternity, alongside lyricist Sir Tim Rice.
“It is enormously exciting – we have brand new songs by composer Stuart Brayson and a really funny, moving and dramatic book,” she says.
“We are basing it on the novel, which came before the film – we had the daughter of writer James Jones come over from New York for this development who was incredibly supportive.
“The novel is a wonderful piece of writing. The film had to use the Army for extras, and they asked for the book to be toned down a bit. When you read the book, if you’ve seen the film, all this extra stuff comes out.”
Starts 7.45pm, 2.30pm matinees on Thurs and Sat, tickets from £13. Call 0844 8717650.