Theatre review: Educating Rita

By Janet McAllister

Jodie Hillock and George Henare in Educating Rita.
Jodie Hillock and George Henare in Educating Rita.

This class-clash Pygmalion dramedy - an oldie but a goodie - makes a great choice for the debut production of the professional Newmarket Stage Company. It's a relatively gentle, fourth-wall two-hander - wonderfully written, full of jokes and bons mots.

And they do a very good job. George Henare - who, in his mid-60s, must be the hardest-working man in Auckland showbiz - enjoys a little lightness (with undercurrents of tragedy) between the high drama of Awatea just past and Death of a Salesman to come. He plays the elder academic Frank suitably quietly and deeply, belying the character's insistence that "there's less to me than meets the eye".

His working-class student Rita (Jodie Hillock) lives up to his claim that she's "the first breath of air that's been in this room for years". Hillock's Rita caught between two worlds is bright and spunky from the outset.

Both actors are at ease in their long conversations, director Adey Ramsel using movement to keep us interested in a long play of vignette-like scenes set in one room.

Ramsel also designed the set as a collective cultural imagining of an academic's den - wonderfully shabby, cluttered, with a leather wingchair, shelves falling down, and the whiskey hidden behind the Eliot.

Playwright Willy Russell criticises working-class culture - his own roots -but doesn't look to the middle classes for all the answers. In the play's sharpest line, Rita accuses Frank of liking "to keep your natives thick, because that way they still look charming and delightful". But Russell's not preaching; this is a funny, entertaining night out into another world.

May Newmarket Stage Company enjoy a long and healthy life.

Where: Opera Factory, Eden St, Newmarket, to September 8

- NZ Herald

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