Tag Archives: Willy Russell

Educating Rita – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

There’s an undeniable affection for Willy Russell’s 40-year-old, Pygmalion-like drama Educating Rita, from the great British theatre-going public. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and staged at what is now the Donmar Warehouse, it saw a much-loved and much-lauded film adaptation in 1983 starring Julie Walters and Michael Caine.

The story of 26-year-old, married, Liverpudlian hairdresser Rita (actually Susan) and her foray into the world of academia on an Open University course, and her tutor Frank, a career academic faded and jaded by university life, seeking solace in drink, this OU tutorship paying nicely for his alcoholic fix. Each feeds from the other: Rita’s world expands as she is exposed to the bohemian lifestyle of the students and Frank is energised by Rita’s lust for life. Each shines a light on the other: some truths are exposed, some assumptions shattered and inevitably, both Rita and Frank undergo changes, not necessarily for the better.

Four decades on (admittedly with a bit of updating from Russell himself for the 21st Century and this 40th anniversary tour) it still feels relevant, maybe depressingly so. Is it really still as hard for working class women, or those living in poverty to better themselves as it was in 1980? The ‘them and us’ world so prevalent then, is frighteningly familiar today.

Jessica Johnson and Stephen Tompkinson reprise their roles from the last national tour. Tompkinson’s natural hang-dog expression is perfectly suited to the world-weary Frank and he has time and time again proved himself to be one of the country’s most adept stage actors. Johnson’s Rita (Susan) is hugely likeable but her accent wavers frequently and her projection is such that it leaves you straining to hear much of her dialogue. That said, it is deservedly a British theatre classic, and still well worth watching.

Image: Robert Day

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: Shirley Valentine – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

jodie prenger against a greek seaside background

Willy Russell’s track record of successfully writing about ordinary women is almost unparalleled in popular theatre: Educating Rita, Blood Brothers and this, his 1986 effort Shirley Valentine, have repeatedly touched the hearts of the nation in both stage and film versions.

Shirley Bradshaw (Jodie Prenger) is 42, with two teenage kids who have flown the nest, an emotionally distant husband, her day to day existence leaving her resigned to (literally) talking to the egg-yolk yellow walls of her pine-clad kitchen. When her best friend offers to pay for a well-needed holiday for the pair, Shirley jumps at the chance to escape.

In the 30 years that have passed since it was written, much has changed, and women have come a long way. Despite a few dated references, and the fact that at 42, an age when many women in 2017 are only starting to contemplate having a family, 1980’s Shirley feels washed up and unable to escape her situation, Russell’s script has largely weathered the years well. That he can wring so much humour and pathos from the life of a working class Liverpudlian housewife, is a testament to his talent. It is in turn touching, resonant and laugh-out-loud funny.

That said, it’s not without fault. Essentially a 16000-word monologue, the weight of the production’s success is set firmly on the shoulders of the lead. Here, Prenger can’t rely on her impressive singing voice. Shirley’s cheeky chat and charisma, coupled with Prenger’s vivacity and heightened characterisation make it hard to believe that she doesn’t have the confidence to leave her dreary life behind. However, Prenger’s natural warmth transmits brilliantly to the audience, making us forgive her less than on-point Liverpool accent, and the audience is never not rooting for her every step of her journey.

Amy Yardley’s set design is simple, the 80s kitchen familiar to anyone who lived through the decade. Less successful is the rendering of the sun-drenched Greek island, the azure blue Mediterranean Sea more plastic camping tarpaulin than lapping waves. That said, it’s the words that matter, and those are glorious.

There’s enough here to still resonate with an audience in 2017; it’s a perfect balance of thought-provoking, self-searching, inspirational and life-affirming. It will make you, as Russell says in his script, “fall in love with the idea of living.” A British theatre classic and deservedly so.

Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE REVIEWS HUB HERE

REVIEW: Stags and Hens – East Kilbride Arts Centre

It’s Liverpool. It’s the 70s. It’s a Liverpool where Industry has gone to the dogs and opportunity has taken a very long ferry trip far beyond the Mersey.

Dave and Linda are on their respective stag and hen nights, unbeknownst to each other, in the same place, a trashy, down-at-heel disco in the city.

The action in Willy Russell’s Stags and Hens takes place in the toilets of the dodgy disco, where Linda and her pals and Dave (who spends the play with his head down the toilet) and his mates, ruminate on life, the universe and everything in between.

Russell is a master portrayer of the lives of the ordinary man (and woman); the clothes may be desperately dated, the jokes chronic; “love is blind, marriage is an institution…who wants to live in an institution for the blind?”, but the dialogue is natural, believable and entirely relatable and underneath the surface laughs there is a deeper commentary on working class life, misogyny, opportunity and expectation.

Inspire Theatre’s production of this little-seen play is near-faultless. Under the tight direction of Elaine Berry, the action moves along at a cracking pace and the razor-sharp dialogue hits the mark every time, but what elevates the whole production is the cast. Universally on point throughout, the cast of twelve maintain an impeccable focus and the production is replete with pristine tiny detail, from the girls’ primping and preening to the boys’ posturing, this is a masterclass in acting.

Particularly impressive are Hazel May MacGregor as the bolshy and boisterous Bernadette and Michelle Minto as the hysterical Maureen. To his great credit, Francis Lyons manages to keep the role of violent hothead Eddy completely within the bounds of reality – a role which could so easily have been overplayed and Martin Haddow elicits both laughs and sympathetic awws, as the misfit Billy. That said, this is a perfect example of exemplary ensemble acting.

This is a theatre company to watch out for, small but perfectly formed, bigger companies should take heed – quality wins every time.

 

 

REVIEW: Blood Brothers – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

“Have you heard the story about the Johnstone twins?” The famous first line from Willy Russell’s enduring classic Blood Brothers still has the power to move audiences nearly a quarter of a century on.

The theatrical juggernaught continues to pack them in up and down the country and this run in Glasgow is certainly no exception: for two weeks only Marti Pellow returns both to his hometown and the role of the narrator and the pull of the show and a local star is evident in the packed auditorium.

marti pellow blood brothers

 

The classic tale of nature versus nurture tells the story of Mickey and Edward, twins born to single mum Mrs. Johnstone who already has her hands full: abandoned by her husband, she’s pregnant again and this time it’s twins. The solution to her problems comes in the guise of her employer Mrs. Lyons who offers to take one of the twins and raise him as her own. Mickey is raised in a happy but poverty stricken home with his natural mother and Edward in middle class privilege with the Lyons, but the two meet in childhood and bond instantly with tragic consequences.

blood brothers

 

 

Sean Jones is a fantastic Mickey, echoing the original West End performance of the outstanding Con O’Neill and as twin Edward, fresh-faced Joel Benedict is effective.  Maureen Nolan is a delight in the pivotal role of Mrs. Johnstone, she shows the necessary personality to carry off the role convincingly and she’s surprisingly strong-voiced. Mention must be made too of Danielle Corlass, who imbues childhood friend Linda with more life than is usually seen in the role.

blood brothers 2014 tour

For all the playfulness of the first act, one never escapes the uneasy feeling of impending doom that pervades and as the Narrator Marti Pellow is a suitably menacing presence throughout, and for a Glaswegian, makes a decent enough stab at a Liverpudlian accent. One thing that should be mentioned though is the ear-splitting amplification with reverb which was utilised in the production – instead of enhancing the dialogue it rendered much incomprehensible.

Blood-Brothers-Sign-of-the-Times

Blood Brothers has endured for very good reasons, the themes of nature versus nurture, the Class divide and the devastating consequences of long-term unemployment are as relevant today as they always were, those coupled with a great script and score, has meant that this was always going to be a winner. Not an easy show to watch at times, it can leave the audience emotionally wrung-out but it really is  a must see to discover how much more a musical can be if it has substance.

The entire auditorium rising as one in a standing ovation is testament to the quality of the show – get along to see it if you can.

Runs until Saturday 15 November 2014 at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/blood-brothers-2/kings-theatre/