One of the nation's favourite plays is returning to London for a three-week run in April as the Menier Chocolate Factory stages Willy Russell's Educating Rita. Thirty-two years after the RSC-commissioned work first opened, Claire Sweeney will be taking on the role of Susan (who renames herself Rita), originally played on stage and screen by Julie Walters.
Walters was already well on her way to becoming a 'national treasure' but her deeply affectionate portrayal of the Liverpudlian hairdresser seeking to better herself with an Open University English literature course won her a new legion of fans, as well as a BAFTA award and an Oscar nomination. Packed with humour, pathos and, of course, the classic motif of class as a barrier to betterment, Educating Rita worked its way into the nation's warmest affections.
Joining Sweeney is the Olivier Award-winning Matthew Kelly, so long a telly staple on You Bet and Stars In Their Eyes, and now a widely revered stage and television actor. Kelly plays Rita's lecturer Frank, a role taken by Sir Michael Caine in the film, and it is easy to see how Kelly's capacity for playing deep, introspective and undeniably human characters will fit perfectly with Franks alcoholic solipsism.
It's a treat, for sure, and one that theatregoers are certain to seize upon when Educating Rita opens on 25th April, running until 12th May. Evening performances are Tuesday to Saturday with matinees on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (3.30pm). We have tickets available now, priced from £29.50.