It’s all in the detail

We take another peek into rehearsals with director Chris Honer to see how things are taking shape for our next production of Educating Rita

The first task of rehearsing a play like Educating Rita is to get the action of the play right. By which I mean discovering what the characters want, what’s driving them, both in the large scale (so, for instance, Rita’s long-term aim is to get what she sees as the freedom that an arts education will bring her) and also what’s motivating them from moment to moment as they strive to achieve their life objective. The short term drivers, and their detail, is often more difficult to get right.

For instance, in the very first scene, within seconds of meeting her Open University tutor for the first time, Rita admires a painting in his room. She points out that it’s religious but that the woman in it has bare breasts. She asks him if he finds it erotic, and then goes on to say that this kind of art was probably the porn of its day. What’s she up to here? Trying to impress him with her knowledge of art history? Testing him to see if he’s the kind of tutor she’ll feel comfortable with? Even flirting with him? There are all sorts of possibilities to be tested and one option eventually to be decided on.

Having established our characters’ motivations, most of our work now is on detail. Today was Act Two. We’ve arrived at a rough staging of each scene and part of the process now is testing whether that staging – or ‘blocking’ – holds up as we return to each scene. For instance, in the first scene of Act Two, when Rita returns, inspired and empowered from her first OU summer school, we’d had her lounging on Frank’s sofa and telling him about all her experiences. This felt agreeably relaxed but Gillian began to feel it wasn’t free or energised enough. So we tried it with her hardly being able to keep still in the room with the excitement of it all, and it suddenly became much truer to her emotional state.

Later in the play, Frank, embittered and a bit drunk, having just been on the receiving end of an angry blast from Rita, thrusts his own poetry at her to criticise for her next assignment. The motivations were all in place but something wasn’t firing properly at one of the emotional climaxes of the play. Eureka! We’d plotted it so that he was sitting at the other side of the room and it was simply taking him too long to get to his books. And with actors as deft and accomplished as Gillian and Philip, and with the aid of a repositioned whisky bottle, we swiftly re-staged it to deliver a more effective climax.

Educating Rita runs from Thu 26 Sep – Sat 12 Oct 2013. You can book tickets online here or from The Lowry Box Office on 0843 208 6010.