A full-length two-hander with a single setting has to be made of really special stuff to avoid outstaying its welcome. Jeremy Raison’s production of Educating Rita for the Citz manages to keep its audience onside – just – but in spite of, rather than because of, Willy Russell’s original play.
The main problem is one of structure. The first act – in which the eponymous heroine, discontented with the drudgery of her work and domestic life, meets her tutor Frank and embarks on an Open University course in English literature – feels like an unusually long set-up for the main conflict. The string of increasingly short scenes derives its humour from the heroine’s earthy take on the classics, with Frank at this stage cast in the role of charmed, curmudgeonly gatekeeper. There’s some enjoyable lampooning of institutional learning here, but with a blackout and applause at the end of every short scene, the action never really gets into its stride.
The second act is much more evenly balanced between the two, as Rita (now Susan), gaining in confidence, accuses the drunken, self-hating Frank of squandering his opportunities while Frank pours scorn on Susan’s increasing pretensions. Charles Lawson does sufficiently distance himself from his most famous role, as Coronation Street’s boorish hard man Jim MacDonald to do a sympathetic turn as the drink-sodden, washed-up Frank, while Emma Cunniffe pulls off a convincing performance in the tricky role as nervous, defensive, wide-eyed Rita.
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 7 Mar