Starting swiftly with a recommendation: you have only a few days left to see Willy Russells's comedy of academic manners Educating Rita at Salisbury Playhouse until June 22. Directed by Max Roberts for a national tour, with Stephen Tompkinson as the jaundiced OU professor and Jessica Johnson as the hairdresser with aspirations, this 40-year old social commentary still packs a surprising punch. Reverence for academia to such an extent seems incredible now, but the Pygmalion motif with its quasi-sexual frisson and that timeless theme of individuality versus social expectations, plus a strong cast, combine to create a hugely compelling production. The set is a handsome evocation of the grand old days of bibliophilic reverence and the costumes are spot on, but the major credit for this success must go to the two actors who hold the stage for nearly 3 hours. It's not a play of swerves or surprises: the dramatic trajectory is spelled out in literary references so, like Eliot's Tiresias, we can perceive the scene and foretell the rest, yet these actors bring an engaging warmth to what Frank would call tragedy. “You see, he goes blindly on and on and with every step he’s spinning one more piece of thread which will eventually make up the network of his own tragedy.” With so many witty lines, we'd rather call it a comedy, just as Howards End is called simply a novel. More relevant to this drama is the beautiful pacing from Jessica Johnson and endearing understated self-awareness from Stephen Tompkinson, ensuring an intimate and compelling performance from both.
This is the kind of popular-classic production that Theatre Royal Bath does superlatively well: glamorous set, fabulous costumes, fantastic visual effects, fast-paced direction and a strong cast. Geoffrey Streatfeild as the hapless author is excellent but, inevitably, the eye-magnet is Jennifer Saunders as the bicycling psychic, summoned back to repair her efforts and apologising for having been 'not only remiss but also untidy.' Also a surprise hit of the night, and I won't say why just in case you don't know the play (I didn't) as this would be a spoiler, is Rose Wardlaw as Edith the maid. On till 6 July. Images Nobby Clark.
As grumpily foretold in my previous posting, this chronicle of the vigorous artsy life in Frome town is likely to be a half-mast affair for a while. Reviews of scintillating productions may be missing, and musical revels in Frome unremarked. It's frustrating but I hope only temporary: you can google PMR if you want, but I wouldn't bother, it's not a fun read. (Unlike PG Wodehouse, suddenly rediscovered - who's your comfort-go-to-author?) On the positive side, with massive support from friends - Frome does a top line in buddies & bruvvers - I didn't have to miss the double-birthday of the decade last weekend, at lovely Tuckers Grave Inn campsite a few miles outside town. The inn itself is a tiny 200-year old cider house on the National Inventory of Historic Interiors and the camp-fire vibe in the field was brilliant - here's the party barn, getting decorated & garlanded, with buffet, sound system & disco, where it all kicked off as night fell ....a summer's evening of prosecco & dancing to Darude in a hay-barn along with some of the nicest people on the planet seems to be a very effective pain relief!