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Le Figaro magazine
Samedi 22 décembre

· L'Éducation de Rita
La souris et le matou

Plus anglo-saxon que cet ersatz de Pygmalion, tu meurs… Tout y est : le rapport d'âge, le rapport maître-élève, le sentiment mezzo voce, l'ascenseur social, le campus universitaire, etc. La pièce de Willy Russell est solide et bien bâtie, elle joue sur des ressorts qui font mouche, et le public lui a toujours accordé ses faveurs. Adriana Santini nous en livre une excellente adaptation, vive, vraie, fine, jeune. Elle la joue avec ces mêmes qualités, dirigée par Chrsitophe Lidon, en compagnie de son père Pierre Santini qui n'a qu'à laisser filer son talent dans un rôle en or. Un vrai plaisir.

Philippe Tesson


Comédie dramatique de Willy Russell, mise en scène de Christophe Lidon, avec Pierre Santini et Adriana Santini.

C'est l'histoire de Rita... une jeune coiffeuse pour dames de 26 ans. Rita veut changer de vie. Ce qu'elle souhaite : TOUT apprendre. Elle veut étudier, se cultiver, changer de vie...
Elle est reçue aux cours particuliers de "l'université pour tous". Ce sera Frank son professeur de littérature. Lui, il est alcoolique, désenchanté, triste, mélancolique... Bref, Frank à première vue n'a pas l'air très enclin à prendre en charge l'éducation de Rita.

Au fur et à mesure de son apprentissage Rita, cette jeune femme pleine de vie qui ne se démonte pas, va prendre confiance en elle. Elle en aura même plus que son maître et fait une ascension intellectuelle fulgurante, ce qui n'est pas pour plaire à Frank bien sûr...

Adriana Santini, dans le rôle de Rita, s'empare complètement du personnage et de son temps, notamment dans le langage très jeun's et sans demi mesure. Le propos lui est toujours même encore plus d'actualité : le droit et l'accès à l'éducation pour tous. Un sujet de société qui nous concerne tous, et en premier lieu... Rita qui le défend avec fougue : "Je suis coiffeuse, pas chirurgien esthétique. La plupart de mes clientes viennent pour changer. Mais quand on veut changer, il faut le faire de l'intérieur."

Toutes les saynètes se passent dans le bureau typique d'un professeur d'université comme Frank. Bureau en bois désordonné, un tapis persan, une bibliothèque (en jeu de cubes) gigantesque qui se transforme et se retransforme au cours de la pièce. Empilés, déplacés, renversés, retournés, voilà ce que les livres subiront, et c'est ainsi que cette bibliothèque imaginaire prend vie.

Dans cet espace du savoir et de la culture, Frank le professeur règne en maître. Il est plus qu'un simple professeur il est le guide, le mentor de Rita. Pierre Santini, de par son charisme, sa voix, son assurance et un jeu de comédien à vous couper le souffle, donne une dimension encore plus profonde à son personnage. Il met en valeur de façon naturelle les faiblesses et les peurs de Frank du fait que Rita bouscule sa vie et ses habitudes.

D'un autre côté, Rita bouscule également sa vie. Elle ne supporte plus ses clientes, son mari se croit cocufié avec Tchekhov... Bref, tout se ballotte autour d'elle à cause de cette envie dévorante de savoir.

Adriana Santini a un pep's d'enfer, une présence scénique sans pareille, et ce, du début jusqu'à la fin de la pièce. Elle donne à son personnage un petit plus, quelque chose qui la rend différente et, en même temps, si touchante et forte à l'intérieur. De toute façon, coûte que coûte, elle a parié avec sa conscience qu'elle irait jusqu'au bout de cette histoire même si elle doit y perdre quelques plumes...

Un pièce pleine de messages et de problèmes contemporains qui caractérisent notre société : la quête de soi, de sa propre recherche de savoir. Sublime parcours de vie qui remet sur le tapis un questionnement sur notre société et sur sa vie tout simplement !

TB - froggydelight.com


Educating Rita ****

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL
Sweet on the Grassmarket


It's difficult to do Educating Rita badly. The 80 minutes crackle away with line after line of wit, insight and more layers than your aunty's wedding cake. The boy Russell can certainly write. Oscar-winningly good on celluloid, it's better on the stage, and this production doesn't disappoint.

The venue might look and feel like a converted hotel function suite (which it is), but this is forgotten as soon as Rita bursts onto the stage in a jolting blur of colour and noise. The actress is near-perfect, the odd first-night slip easily overlooked as the vowels, pitch and timing take over.

The actor playing Frank seems remarkably young to take on the role of an alcohol-soaked disillusioned middle-age lecturer with a stuttering career as a poet and a broken marriage behind him. “I wish you'd walked through that door 20 years ago” says Frank to Rita, at which point it's difficult not to notice that 20 years ago this Frank would have been in short trousers and school tie.

Still, as problems go, that's minor. A production well worth missing the first couple of rounds of the pub quiz for, and your mum will love it.


Chris Ozóg - Festonline


TWO TALES OF ONE CITY

Educating Rita ****
Byre Theatre, St Andrews

By some strange piece of synchronicity, the image of Liverpool’s great waterfront skyline has been haunting Scottish theatre in the week of the announcement that the city is to be European Capital of Culture in 2008. Hurry along to the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, and there you’ll see it, hazy in daylight or outlined in stars, in the spectacular backdrop to the touring Bill Kenwright production of Blood Brothers. And up at the Byre in St Andrews, here it is again, spread like a decorative border all across the programme for Ken Alexander’s new production of Educating Rita.

The man behind both shows, of course, is Liverpool’s leading dramatic bard Willy Russell, ladies’ hairdresser turned playwright, and extraordinary man of letters; and his work certainly offers plenty of food for thought about the challenges facing Liverpool writers in the run-up to 2008. It’s clear that part of the huge energy that inspired both the Glasgow and Liverpool bids to become European City of Culture comes from the impulse to give a voice to those who feel marginalised, discarded or abused by the onward march of history; to the people of big cities sucked into being by the economic whirlwind of the Industrial Revolution and then left on the scrapheap - and often mocked, insulted and stereotyped, too - in the second half of the 20th century. But the key question - one never quite resolved during Glasgow’s 1990 year in the limelight - is how to voice that experience, as Bill Bryden memorably did in his huge production of The Ship at Govan, without succumbing to self-pity, and the kind of blame-shifting victim-mentality that leaves people feeling not more powerful for having told their story, but less so.

And in that sense, these two Willy Russell shows currently playing in Scotland offer some interesting contrasts, not only in style but in attitude to the people whose lives they describe.

Blood Brothers - first seen in Liverpool in 1982, and reviewed here last week - remains a passionate, haunting and hugely popular modern tragedy, a big hit musical with a rare backbeat of strong, meaty drama and class politics. But its heroine, working-class mother-of-nine Mrs Johnstone, is portrayed throughout as a helpless victim of her fate, although an instantly recognisable and attractive one; she’s fearful, superstitious, self-deceiving and doomed to pay a terrible price for the one positive decision she ever makes.

Russell’s great comedy Educating Rita, though, takes an entirely different approach. As Alexander’s excellent Byre production demonstrates, it’s one that gives the play a surprisingly contemporary edge, 23 years on from its first London production. The difference, of course, is that its protagonist Rita - a 26-year-old Liverpool hairdresser who has decided to branch out into an Open University course on English literature - comes from a working-class background but, like most real human beings, is not wholly defined by that class identity.

For one thing, as Russell shrewdly observes, her life-chances are shaped by gender as much as class. Rita can take up her Open University course, and try to change her life, precisely because the Pill has given her the control over her own fertility that Mrs Johnstone lacked.

And for another, Rita has the key human ability to think, argue and imagine her way into a thousand different worlds, and to offer a critique of the people and culture she comes from, as well as a passionate understanding of their problems.

In one of her key speeches, Rita articulates her sense that these problems are not only economic, but cultural and spiritual, and that providing top-down jobs for people thrown onto the scrapheap is, at best, only a short-term solution; it’s a thought that might act as a mission statement for the whole 2008 project, designed as it is to work from the bottom up, to unleash the creativity of the people, and to help free them at last from that old sense of dependency and powerlessness.

Up at St Andrews, Anita Vettesse and Richard Addison make a fine, passionate job of exploring the relationship between Rita and her disillusioned tutor Frank, capturing both the huge vitality of Rita’s language and persona, and her desperate need to transcend it. The production, staged on a gorgeous open-book set by Rebecca Minto, also raises some disturbing questions about what has happened, in the last two decades, to the shabbily tolerant academic world Russell portrays, and to the kind of liberal education that Rita experiences.

In that sense, as a political play, Educating Rita strikes an unusually mature balance between celebrating the power of individuals to take their fate into their own hands and recognising the structures - from the free availability of contraception to the presence of a liberal education system - that make that self-empowerment so much more possible.

If Liverpool 2008, like Glasgow 1990, is to be partly about enriching the debate on what kind of society we need to be in the 21st century, then that fine balance at the heart of Russell’s most popular play seems to me as good a starting-place as any.

Educating Rita runs until 28 June; Blood Brothers is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 14 June

JOYCE McMILLAN - The Scotsman
Wednesday, 11th June 2003


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