The book opens on Educating Rita

| 23/01/2019
CNS Local Life
(Above and below) Adam Roberts and Soraya Moghadass in scenes from Educating Rita (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

(CNS Local Life): The newest production from the Cayman Drama Society, Educating Rita, which opens Thursday (24 January), has turned out to be a learning experience for most of those involved. The play featured a first-time director, stage manager and producer, with both cast members never before acting in a “two-hander”.

But based on the final product, it appears the lack of experience did not prove an impediment, as there was no indication of any first-time jitters from anyone involved.

Director Fay Anne de Freitas practically fell into that job, after the two previous directors were forced to withdraw. While she had theatre experience as an actor – her last performance was in the 2018 production of Barefoot in the Park – she had never taken the helm. Her husband, theatre manager Paul de Freitas, was looking for another director, prompting her to say, “Educating Rita is a fabulous play, maybe I could try.”

And with the help of Paul Njoka, who directed her in Barefoot, as her assistant for this latest play, de Freitas jumped in.

While acknowledging the job was “very challenging”, she also said working with experienced actors Adam Roberts (Frank) and Soraya Moghadass (Rita) made the process “quite easy” and proved a good introduction to directing.

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She said the most difficult part was getting the small things right. “What I hadn’t prepared myself for were the little details such as the various expressions of the actors. There are a lot of words in this play, with lots to express. They had to be overt but at the same time make it look as natural as possible. Paul (Njoka) was great in helping me with that.”

The plot centres on Rita, a 26-year-old hairdresser who signs up for an open university course in English literature, and middle-aged Frank, who is her tutor. The play explores their relationship as they meet once a week in his office, as the audience learns about their lives and watches the effect teacher and student have on each other over time.

The five weeks of rehearsals began the middle of December, breaking for the holidays, with a three-a-week schedule after that. De Freitas noted one major difference between a small cast and a larger ensemble was dealing with the movement of the two actors, and trying to ensure they did not cross in front of each other. “It couldn’t be too static but we had to balance the movement with the talking,” she explained, adding, “It had to feel natural for the actors.”

One of the techniques she used to accomplish that was to film Roberts and Moghadass during a rehearsal and have them watch it and critique themselves. “It was a great tool for them.”

The actors agreed that seeing themselves on film was very helpful, though each one also had other challenges in their roles. Moghadass said the greatest difficulty for her was sounding authentically Scouse, while also having to memorise all the many lines required. She added she wound up speaking with that accent all the time, not just at rehearsal, to get it right. Her hard work paid off, as she seemed to effortlessly play Rita.

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Moghadass also had to cope with numerous quick costume changes to denote the passage of time since the play took place on a single set, Frank’s office. To make the process easier she used all her own clothes. “There were only seconds between each change, but to the audience it can seem like hours.”

While Roberts is an old hand at CDS productions, he had never been in a two-actor play before. “It was scary and completely different from an ensemble,” he recalled, adding, “But it was easier to get together to run lines,” since there were only two people involved, so they were able to do that work while a permanent director was found.

He has proved himself versatile, from deftly handling parts in musicals and comedies to the searing drama of last year’s The Diary of Anne Frank. While not citing a preference for any one genre, he said with a smile, “I am far more confident when I’m not singing!”

Both actors avoided watching previous versions of Educating Rita, notably the 1983 film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, instead focusing on bringing their own interpretation of the characters to the stage.

The play has also been updated by the original playwright, Willy Russell, setting the story in the first decade of the 2000’s; one of the reasons de Freitas chose this later version was that it made it more relatable to audiences today.

Rounding out the first-timers for this production are Liam Oko (producer) and Laura McCauley (stage manager) who have both acted in previous shows. The two handled their new responsibilities with aplomb, with the director and actors all praising their work.

Once Educating Rita closes, de Freitas, Roberts and Moghadass will be taking breaks from the stage, but, spoiler alert, keep an eye out for at least one of them treading the boards at CDS’ annual Christmas show.

Performance dates for Educating Rita are 24-26, and 31 January, and 1-2 February. Tickets are available through the CDS website or by calling 939-1998

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Category: Arts, Local News, Performing Arts

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