Praise for Sir Lenny Henry after opening night ‘stumble’
24 June 2015
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Sir Lenny Henry’s performance in a revival of Educating Rita has been praised after a shaky start which saw him fluff his lines.
Sir Lenny takes the role of literature professor Frank, who becomes reluctant tutor to a barely educated hairdresser Rita in Willy Russell’s play.
The Mail’s Quentin Letts said the actor told the audience: “I’ve completely gone”, before leaving the stage.
On his return, he “proceeded to perform the rest of the evening with aplomb”.
“The incident, which did not spoil the show at all (in some ways it made it),” he said, “happened half an hour into the first night of Educating Rita”.
He added: “But the audience gobbled it down, forgiving Sir Lenny his first-night nervousness. Put it down as extra drama, on the house. Educating Sir Lenny. He will undoubtedly improve in this part.”
The play, first staged in 1980, originally starred Julie Walters and Mark Kingston before it was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film in 1983, also starring Walters and Sir Michael Caine.
In the Guardian’s three-star review of the new play at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Michael Billington called the event, “one of the strangest first nights I can remember”.
Following Sir Lenny’s brief break, he said “with commendable courage, Henry carried on to give a perfectly good performance”.
“In truth, Frank is not the easiest of roles. While Rita grows from a naive Liverpool hairdresser into a buoyantly independent spirit, Frank sinks deeper into a self-pitying alcoholic lethargy.
“But Henry conveyed well Frank’s disillusion with his own unfulfilled poetic career and delicately hinted at the character’s emotional and sexual attachment to his sparky protege.”
The Chichester Observer chose not to dwell on Sir Lenny’s “first-half blip”.
“As good as his performance was, the night belongs to Lashana Lynch who positively dazzles as Rita, the Liverpudlian hairdresser desperate to secure for herself the knowledge she so envies,” it said.
Lynch was at her best “offering a captivating sincerity in a world more given to learned pretension”.
The Stage was less complimentary about the production, saying Sir Lenny “recently knighted for his charitable work, particularly for Comic Relief, found little relief or comedy in the role, not helped by Michael Buffong’s lethargic production that plods along at a mostly unvarying pace and with little grace”.
It added: “Last seen in London when the Menier revived it in 2010 in rep with Russell’s Shirley Valentine, the play warrants a return. But this production doesn’t provide a good enough reason to revisit it.”
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