Theatre 5 Presents “Educating Rita” Starring Hannah Smith & Robert Bowes

Photo by Désirée E. Turcotte

I’m a little late in posting about this play but I think that it deserves my attention because I am, after all, a fan of Kingston’s finest young actress, Hannah Smith. You can catch her this week in:


The Baiden Street Theatre (57 Baiden St.), home of Theatre 5 presents Educating Rita, a sparkling comedy directed by Valerie Robertson, starring Robert Bowes and Hannah Smith, where the physics of love are demonstrated when an irresistible woman meets an immovable man in the hallowed halls of learning.

Show runs Thursday to Saturday evenings from Nov. 25 – Dec. 11 at 8 p.m.

Tickets available at Peters Drugs or at the door.

FROM THE WHIG STANDARD – November 27, 2010

by Greg Burliuk

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The two characters in Educating Rita spend the whole play basically arguing that point.

And in Theatre 5’s production of the popular play, it’s a fascinating debate.

The play first premiered in 1980 in London and in 1983 was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters. The latter however added characters are only referred to in the original two-person play.

The concept is one that is borrowed from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, about a young working class woman seeking to better herself through an educated tutor. Rita playwright Willy Russell makes things more interesting however, by making the two characters more equal. The young hairdresser who has decided to change her name to Rita is more feisty than Eliza Doolittle was in Pygmalion, and Frank her tutor is a bit of a drunken sot and not so prim and perfect as Professor Higgins.

Rita thinks knowledge and education will set her soul free, while Frank has found it’s stifled him, to the point that he has to turn to drink in self-disgust.

The seven scenes in each act become a journey of self-discovery for both characters, but chiefly for Rita.

The whole play takes place in Frank’s office, and Theatre 5’s intimate theatre makes you feel like you are sitting in a corner of it and a real part of the proceedings.

Lovers of literature will enjoy the little morsels of knowledge that Frank passes on, but most will prefer hearing Rita’s unique and comical take on her life, as she struggles to be more than a working-class wife whose husband wants nothing more from her than to be pregnant.

This is a play full of lots of words so it’s no mean feat for the two actors on stage to be able to handle a mountain full of lines. Plus it’s crucial that there be an intimacy between the two that has no element of sexuality between it, something that’s very hard to do.

And it’s a compliment to Theatre 5’s actors that they manage to both deal well with the lines and more importantly, the complex but tender relationship between the two.

The two represent a youthful and veteran side of Kingston’s theatre scene. Since he’s moving to Burnaby, British Columbia, this will be Robert Bowes’ last appearance on a Kingston stage after 30 years of doing so. It’s one of his best performances. He nicely captures the dissolute despair of Frank, who only sees sunlight when Rita brings her cheekiness and fresh ideas into the room. And there’s something to be said for an actor who can play drunkenness without having to stereotypically slur his syllables.

Hannah Smith is still in high school but has already had several starring roles, most notably in Bottle Tree Production shows. Her Rita is saucy but tormented by feelings of inadequacy. What I like most about her performance is the furious energy she brings to the role which parallels the turmoil that’s going on in Rita’s brain.

If there’s a weakness to the production, it’s dealing with the 14 different scenes. Since they take place over a period of time, Rita must be continually changing costumes, and having Frank walk back and forth through the audience at the end of each scene is a bit distracting. This is where Theatre 5’s intimate stage, which has no back stage, is a weakness.

Still this is a production that deserves to fill this tiny theatre every night.

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Educating Rita

A play by by Willy Russell

Director: Valerie Robertson

Set design: Steve Furster

A Theatre 5 production playing until Dec. 11 at the Baiden Street Theatre, 57 Baiden St. With performances from Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m.


Rita White – Hannah Smith

Frank Bryant – G. Robert Bowes

Rating: * * * 1/2out of five