Dead poet

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“Let’s do a dead good poet."

Confused? Intrigued? To find out exactly what they're talking about, come and see Educating Rita.

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“Wit? You’ll find more wit in the telephone book and, probably, more insight. Its one advantage over the telephone directory is that it is easier to rip.”

Some of Adrian's favourite moments have been ripping things up on stage.

Photo: Anni Taponen
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Frank: “Have you ever seen Checkov in the theatre?”
Rita: “No, does he go?”

This is Stephanie's favourite line in the play. On a more general level, she says, "I love the top of act two, because the playing field is leveled, and both characters are enjoying the game."

Photo: Anni Taponen
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Mealy-mouthed pricks

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"Or maybe they did it because they're a crowd of mealy-mouthed pricks who wouldn't know a poet if you beat them about the head with one."

This is Hosanna's favourite line of the play, but Adrian has found the 'drunk scenes' to be his least favourite.

Photo: Anni Taponen
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A fine wine or a neon shell suit?

Staging a well-known play can be nerve-wracking. An actor who plays Hamlet will be judged not only on their own interpretation of the text, but also against all of the legendary Hamlets that have gone before. And if a play has been made into a popular film, people may come to the theatre with more preconceived ideas than usual – and that goes for actors and directors as well as audience members.

I asked Adrian Goldman if he was concerned about being influenced by, or compared to, Michael Caine’s portrayal of Frank in the 1983 film version of Educating Rita.

I haven’t seen the film, so have no idea how he did it; other than being Michael Caine, which he is always,” says Adrian.

He’s usually tempted to play roles more seriously, and feels Caine probably played more for laughs. Adrian’s go-to places for comedy have been Noël Coward and ‘handbag’ Oscar Wilde rather than Caine’s ‘London wide guy’, so those are the overtones you might pick up in our version.

Stephanie Carlson makes it a point to avoid watching other productions or portrayals whenever possible, especially right before playing a part herself. 

“I did see the movie years ago,” she says, “and therefore I suppose Julie Walters’ interpretation of Rita is somewhere in the background. But I try to focus on the script and my own personal response to the moments as they occur.”

The director, Hosanna Megumi, is also keen for the actors to bring their own versions of Frank and Rita to life. Movie adaptations often differ from the play or book they’re based on, to a greater or lesser degree, and often for good reason. While this tends to annoy die-hard fans, it can also have its benefits: even if they’ve seen the movie, the original play can still offer the audience something new – and often something deeper and more complex.

“When I finally read the play, I was quite surprised to see how different it was from the movie,” says Hosanna.

Willy Russell wrote Educating Rita in 1980, which makes it an almost historical play. That is, the world has definitely moved on, but the period is still very much in living memory. So, is the play still relevant forty years on?

Stephanie definitely thinks so because, “One of the main themes is that we all have a choice to create the life we want, and that it takes hard work and drive to move forward.”

“The key message for me,” Adrian says, “is that education is the route to choice in life – and this is absolutely true today.”

Hosanna agrees, especially when it comes to women: “It’s something that has improved in many parts of the world since the eighties, but there are many countries where both education and choice are not an option for many girls and women.”

zuzana subrtova 0paeARVmBLQ unsplashThe main themes may still be relevant, but has this play otherwise aged like a fine wine or a neon shell suit? Obviously, it has dated in the same way as every play that was written before we had the ‘internet in our pocket’. Access to information and technology is now on a whole new level throughout all echelons of society.

“When the play was written, people in the working class didn’t have washing machines, didn’t know which wine to buy, etc. Having a fridge was a new thing,” says Adrian.

Workplace drunkenness is also much more frowned upon now, and Frank’s claim that ‘being pissed is a minor misdemeanour’ is no longer quite the case. Another thing that might raise some eyebrows these days is the teacher-student relationship portrayed in the play. Frank is a university lecturer and Rita is his student, and the sexual politics of university life have certainly changed since the eighties.

"If you talked to a student like that these days, you would be hauled up before a disciplinary committee for sexual harassment," says Adrian.

Hosanna also notes that some of the language used in the play is different and inappropriate in today's world. There was actually some debate among the team about whether they should change a specific line or not, as it’s completely inappropriate in today's world and may or may not offend a modern audience.

"I thought a lot about this,” says Hosanna, “and felt that it was important to present things in the way they were written, because that's a representation of the world at that time. We’ve come a long way since the eighties, in both good ways and bad ways, but I feel that we shouldn't erase the past.”

"Yes, it’s a problem," agrees Adrian, "but one has to accept a play on its own terms, or not do it at all. The same is true for, among others, The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew."

This does not, of course, mean that we shouldn’t approach these things critically, or debate whether certain things could or should have been better, even back then. And as Educating Rita is a play about education, it seems somewhat fitting that we have the opportunity to learn from it indirectly in this way as well.

“We should show the past in both its ugliest and most beautiful forms, so we can compare it to now and see how far we've come,” says Hosanna.

Photo: Zuzana Šubrtová on Unsplash
Text: Zach Chamberlaine

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Meet Stephanie/Rita

Stephanie CarlsonStephanie Carlson is a professional actor and singer from Easthampton, Massachusetts – which for the non-Americans among us is not that East Hampton of ‘the Hamptons’ fame, but is instead ‘kind of near Boston’.

Over the course of her lengthy career, Stephanie has performed throughout the Eastern United States and has also toured nationally with Underground Railway Theatre. Touring on cruise ships has also given her the chance to perform internationally. Since founding Passport Theatre Company with Adrian Goldman in 2012, she’s visited Finland several times for major roles in the group’s joint productions with the Finn-Brit Players, such as Falsettos, Hay Fever and Melancholy Play. And she’s now delighted to be back in Helsinki for Educating Rita!

In fact, she has Adrian to thank for her first ever experience in theatre, when he directed her in a production of Pippin back when she was in high school.

“And I’ve been performing ever since!” says Stephanie.

Another big first resulted from playing April (a ditzy flight attendant) in Speakeasy Stage's production of Company, as it earned Stephanie her first Boston Globe review. Mr. Burns, a Post-Apocalyptic Play, in which she played Bart/Quincy, was also a stand-out production. This edgy black comedy follows a group of survivors remembering and retelling an episode of The Simpsons after an unspecified apocalyptic event.

“And I also loved playing the title role in Sylvia – a cursing, flirting dog who sings,” she says.

Stephanie has also enjoyed her two outings in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, in which she got to play Cecily in one production and Gwendolyn in another.

“Miss Prism is next in the queue if anyone is hiring,” she says.

Educating Rita has long been on Stephanie’s ‘bucket list’, primarily because of its strong female protagonist. Rita is a working-class hairdresser who takes an Open University course to study literature. When she sweeps into her tutor’s life, she absorbs his knowledge and challenges his assumptions.

I identify with Rita's openness, her self-deprecating humour and her desire to grow and evolve,” says Stephanie. 

Rita is from Liverpool, and one of her defining features is her strong Scouse accent. As accents go, Stephanie says it has definitely been ‘a tricky one’ to master and one of the most challenging aspects of playing Rita. Due to the pandemic, Adrian and Stephanie have also done most of their rehearsing over Zoom, which has posed its own set of challenges. Stephanie is therefore looking forward to the final week of intensive in-person rehearsals in Helsinki.

Photo: Danielle Tait
Text: Zach Chamberlaine

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Meet Hosanna

Hosanna MegumiHosanna Megumi has been a stand-out performer ever since her very first appearance on stage – as a cat in her second-grade school play. As is the tradition with school plays, her mother made her costume… and Hosanna ended up with pink ears and a pink tail, while all her classmates (also cats) had normal-coloured ears and tails.

Luckily, this experience didn’t put her off and she started doing community theatre and musicals every summer from the time she was eight. Her early enthusiasm has definitely paid off, as Hosanna is now a professional actor and voice-over artist who has been working in Finnish theatre, TV, films, commercials and voice-overs. Before coming to Finland, she also worked both in front of and behind the camera in the US and her native country of Japan.

When it comes to her most memorable moments on stage, she lists some of her more non-traditional roles: as a literal baby in Baby Stuff (part of the third instalment of Short ‘n’ Snappy, the Finn-Brit Players’ popular collection of short plays) and as a literal mayfly in Time Flies (one of the short plays in the RStC’s production of It’s About Time).

She has also enjoyed her two forays into devised theatre – Ihmiskohtaloita and inSite – and will most likely be involved in another production later this autumn.

Hosanna has worked with both Adrian Goldman and Stephanie Carlson before on several occasions as an actor, but this her first time as a director for Passport Theatre Company. In fact, it’s also her first time directing a full-length play.

Although Hosanna has previously directed a few short films – and has also been involved in a couple of devised theatre productions in which the group creates the performance together from scratch – directing a full-length scripted play has been a whole new experience.

But Adrian has taken the time to guide me through the directing process and has been teaching me a lot, so I’m very grateful for his insight and help,” says Hosanna.

Working with such talented people has helped to ensure an excellent first experience in the director’s chair. Stephanie is a very capable professional actor, and Adrian has extensive experience in both acting and directing.

“The two of them have been very patient with me as I’ve navigated my way through this production. I could not have asked for a better couple of actors to direct!” she says.

It’s therefore a pity we didn’t have a fly-on-the-wall camera, as we could have made a complementary documentary called Educating Hosanna ;)

Photo: Boris Mitkov
Text: Zach Chamberlaine

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