Frank is an aging university lecturer, barely managing to keep his fondness for a drink or six from ending his teaching career and forced to take on extra students through the Open University to fund his liquid love. Enter Rita, a bubbly young woman from one of the local estates who wants to learn everything she can about art, literature, culture and the world. Her outlook on life is a refreshing and invigorating challenge for Frank, who had become more than a little disillusioned with teaching, and together they fight the battle to provide Rita with the knowledge necessary to sit her final exam.
The Bakehouse stage, which is ordinarily a claustrophobic black box, has been transformed with an all-encompassing and well-designed set (from Peter Green and Pamela Munt), representing Frank’s university office, which takes up the whole area and makes it seem positively spacious. Piles of books, an old leather armchair, a filing cabinet and other various knick-knacks, fill the space and create a detailed and pleasing environment in which the two characters interact.
This is a play of many scenes, all taking place in the same setting but needing to be separated to illustrate the progression of time from one to another. The blackouts in between were filled with snippets of music which, while good to tie the show together, came from a rather incongruous blend of eras and thus felt a little anachronistic in a play quite clearly of a specific time period, as illustrated by costumes and character attitudes.
Roger Newcombe gives an enjoyable performance as Frank, showing the character’s intelligence and affability but also revealing his jaded view of the world. His portrayal of the character when drunk was particularly well done, finding just the right level of loss of control to appear realistic. Ruth Fallon as Rita is a fitting match for him, presenting a friendly, unpretentious and naïve persona. Her accent is good and generally consistent, and she manages to portray Rita’s latent intellect despite her rough exterior and unprivileged upbringing. The interaction of the characters is natural and the actors respond to one another well.
However, there is one area in which the performances do fall down and this is with regards to the variation in energy throughout the play. Director Peter Green does not seem to have managed to get either character to quite hit the emotional highs and lows apparent in the script, with them rather progressing along at a consistent level, resulting in a lack of the passion expected. In particular, Rita never quite encompasses the enthusiasm and vivaciousness suggested during the early scenes and, consequently, her transformation throughout the play is not as dramatic or impactful as it had the potential to be.
This is a solid and pleasant performance of an interesting play, though it does not quite reach its potential.
Kryztoff Rating: 3K
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