Educating Rita

By Willy Russell, director Sarah Punshon, with Lauryn Redding and Andrew Pollard (who looked as if he was born to play Malvolio)

I’d never seen this play (or the film version before) and was thoroughly entertained. It’s an updated Pygmalion, where Galatea finds her own voice. The actors were very good (and since it was in the round and we were in the front row, I got a good look at them), and there was plenty to ponder on about education, culture and the stifling conformity of both academia and working-class life. It didn’t pull any punches about the low expectations of the latter and the hostility you can expect if you stick your head above the parapet. And yet . . . Rita’s tale of her mother’s sad insistence that “we know better songs than that” after a Saturday night sing-song in the pub was straight out of Richard Hoggart’s disdain for the jukebox.

Rita’s transformation from brash ignorance and an unquenchable thirst to know more to someone who could manipulate academic language was perhaps overdone (did you ever get one-to-one tutorials with the OU?), but it did make a powerful point about the privilege of choice. It’s not necessarily something you could take for granted if you were working class and female in the 1980s. Any minuscule tinge of regret that I may have felt at hearing her spout the academic norms about Blake was vastly outweighed by the thought that any greater sense of regret would have been tantamount to wishing to see her as some kind of working-class pet. (As Frank partly did.)

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