Educating Rita – Review

Review: Educating Rita

Date: 13-May-14
Author: Tony Palfreeman

We have seen Alan Glover in a wide variety of roles, from the stand up comical to the tragi-comical to the simply tragic. But none of these labels fits this pas de deux, featuring Cath Patterson as Rita and Alan as Frank.

Their Educating Rita is a multilayered venture into the connections between student and teacher, exuberance and exasperation, self-confidence and self-doubt, excitement and cynicism.

Alan expertly captures the character of Frank, as a mid- level academic, now teaching Open University courses for extra cash, addicted to the booze, and with a disillusioned take on academia, on teaching, and on life in general.

Rita is a Liverpudlian hairdresser set on expanding her horizons by enrolling in Frank’s English literature class. What they learn together about each other’s hopes and fears, mindsets and class structures, language and expression, is at the heart of the story. Cath Patterson, in her debut acting performance, brings much verve and energy to the role of Rita.

The theatre in the round approach is an interesting departure from the usual. Giles Tester’s imaginative stage set is Frank’s study, furnished with the teacher’s usual paraphernalia of books, papers and the odd carefully concealed bottle of alcoholic pick-me-up, and allows director Robyn Blackwell to ensure the audience feels  intimately engaged.

There is no space here to congratulate all individuals in the dedicated team, drawn together by Robyn, producer Camilla Dorsch and Stage Manager Andrew Jones, to add one more star production to the Valley Artists’ firmament. A terrific night’s entertainment.

Willy Russell wrote Educating Rita in 1980, reprising a theme introduced by George Bernard Shaw in his Pygmalion written in 1912. Both writers would be as pleased as Punch to see their timeless theme replayed by the Valley Artists in our own Laguna Hall, so many years later.

Tony Palfreeman
May 2014

The Golden Ass – Review

REVIEW OF VALLEY ARTISTS’ THE GOLDEN ASS

“This is all very disappointing.” While this was one of my favourite lines from Valley Artists’ recent production, ‘The Golden Ass’, it in no way represents the play. I was privileged to see this show twice and loved it both times.

First-time Director Craig Howe, in conjunction with a big cast and crew, gave us a very funny and thought-provoking evening. With complex sets portraying a mountain-side, a farm-house and barn, a tavern (‘The Gilded Armpit’) and three different masters’ workshops, enthralled audiences of adults and children were very credibly transported from location to location at rapid-fire pace.

A goat-farmer’s three daughters (played by Audrey Howe, Matilda ‘Tilly’ James and Gabby Miller ) took turns tending to the family’s prize goat, before each being thrown out of the family home after the goat (misunderstanding the reason why the family wanted her fattened up to peak condition) betrayed them to their father. The daughters’ characters interacted well with their parents, particularly with their mother, and they each had an interesting take on the skills they learnt during their various apprenticeships.

As always, Ken Barnett and Karen Butler- Hues gave realistic and hilarious performances, this time as the farmer husband and his wife – even having to be ‘reminded’ to reappear on stage in the morning after they had retired to bed in the previous scene. Ken played a rather tough and disbelieving father perfectly then showed great remorse after learning of his goat’s duplicity. Karen’s over-melodramatic style was perfect for a mother struggling with the daily realities of a harsh life to feed her family (and what food it was!) who also had to face seeing her daughters unjustly sent away.

‘The Guilded/Gilded Armpit’ was staffed by a very able Ben James who played his evil character in the style of the great silent movie villains. The bar patrons portrayed their characters with great enthusiasm (there must be a much younger drinking age where the play is set).

As the local mayor Alison, the only human actually named in the play, Reanna Ede played her part with great aplomb, switching from an obsequious character looking to make great riches to a nose-in-the-air snob when she found it was not to be.

This brings me to newcomer Matt Thomas who carried four roles in the play. He showed great flexibility in his performance, first as a bored and unwilling Narrator, before transforming himself into the three masters (a carpenter, Alpaca breeder and Martial Artist). For those of you who missed the show you will probably never have the opportunity to experience a Kung Fu Master with the unexpected “och aye” accent. Hopefully we will see Matt’s comic skills again in future Valley Artists productions.

On a final note, both the goat and the ass of the title, played by Oliver Debus and Rudi Howe, performed with much vigour and imagination. It was also fascinating to see the amount of independence shown by the rear end of each of these animals!

Anyone who missed this show should be kicking themselves in the ‘ass’. We look forward to seeing much more from the actors who made this show such a success. Kudos also goes to those behind the scenes from wardrobe to sets, sound and lighting and the production team. We also thank you for the time and effort you have put into what is among the best Valley Artists productions I have seen.

Judy Waite