REVIEW: Educating Rita at Nottingham Theatre Royal

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

The much-loved film version of Educating Rita casts a long shadow over a new stage production, but its two new leads make their own marks.

Stephen Tompkinson convinces as the boozy academic and sometime poet Frank, and while he doesn't quite hit the same emotional heights that Michael Caine reached in the 1983 movie, his performance is subtler and more shaded.

Jessica Johnson, challenging Julie Walters in her star-making turn as Rita, arguably has an even more formidable task.

Caine and Walters were nominated for Oscars, and while those honours can't be awarded in this touring production,which is playing at Nottingham's Theatre Royal this week, they both deserve plaudits.

Caine and Walters both won BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for best actor and actress, while the British Film Institute ranked Educating Rita the 84th greatest British film of the 20th century, so the latest stage production has an extremely hard act to follow.

Willie Russell's moving and punctually hilarious script is, of course, their trump card.

The tale of a married hairdresser who enrols on an Open University course to broaden her horizons, and encounters a frustrated poet and dedicated drinker, has become part of the UK's cultural fabric.

It's a heart-warming story, which deals with the possibility of changing yourself and challenging England's class system, and borrows from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion.

Tompkinson's rediscovery of Frank's passion for literature, is extremely affecting, and Johnson's transformation of Rita, from sparky one-off into a self-assured academic, never fails to brighten the dusty study set, full of books and booze.

For ticket information, you can call the box office on 0115 9895555 or click here.