Lana Harper talks to Chris Davis, the director of SUDS’ latest production, ‘Educating Rita’

So, why did you choose to direct Educating Rita?

I love the play! The most striking thing about ‘Educating Rita’ is the fantastic characterization – it’s brilliant to be able to hand actors such amazing, complex roles.

And what has the rehearsal process been like when working with such a small cast?

It’s been a very different experience to previous plays – there’s no way you can be detached from your cast so it’s been a very sociable and intimate rehearsal process.

How much time have you and the cast spent together?

We’ve been rehearsing twenty hours a week. It’s a massive commitment, it’s like a part-time job! I think the intensity has helped us all to focus and bring the piece together in time.

Educating Rita was written and set in the Early ‘80s – is it still relevant today?

I think it’s very relevant – the script doesn’t seem dated, and it’s certainly not a study of that particular time: it’s about the characters. The script we’re using is the one that Willy Russell re-published in 2004, in which he removed a lot of references to the ‘80s and Thatcher.

The actors aren’t using Liverpudlian accents – why did you decide this and do you think the dialogue loses any of its cadences because of it?

Again, the play isn’t confined to one time or place – it’s much broader than that. The issue wasn’t with the actors’ abilities, I just didn’t see a Liverpool setting as an integral part of the story, and using a London accent for Rita works just as well.

There are a lot of people who know the story from the film version – is the play similar?

We’re certainly not trying to ‘be’ the film: there’s no merit in that. None of us have watched the film recently, as I don’t want that to seem the ‘right’ way to do it. Inevitably some people will judge it by the film. The great thing about live theatre is that it’s always different.

Do you consider the play to be primarily a comedy? And is the comedy found in mocking Rita’s lack of education and intellectualism?

We’re not playing it for laughs. It is a funny script, and the dialogue serves itself without us having to ham it up. I’d define it as a comedy drama rather than a comedy; it starts off with a comical tone, and becomes increasingly serious and dramatic. The play is certainly never patronising. Although there are literary references, they are well-explained, so prior literary knowledge is not a pre-requisite for enjoying the play.

And finally… what do you think is the overall message of ‘Educating Rita’? What do you want the audience to take from it?

We haven’t tried to imbue our production with a particular message, I want to leave it open for the audience to interpret as they wish and take what they want from it. I just want a good story, with good characters, that the audience will find enjoyable and entertaining.

Catch ‘Educating Rita’ in the Debating Chamber this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm. Tickets are £5, or £4 on Wednesday.

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