Books, Banter and Educating Rita
Books, Banter and Educating Rita
I’ve never heard of the Opera Factory before. I’ve never heard of Adey Ramsel, either, and as I wander through the back streets of Newmarket I find myself reflecting on this. A year ago, the thought of going somewhere strange to meet a stranger would have terrified me. Now I seem to be used to it.
I’m walking down Eden Street to meet Adey, the founder of Newmarket Stage Company and director of its first play, Educating Rita, which opens on Thursday night.
If Eden Street had a voice I think it would grumble a lot. It would spend a lot of time sitting in a ratty old chair doing crosswords, and the Opera Factory would be that tricky nine letter word which finally makes it smile. I find Adey Ramsel outside this secret of a theatre unloading a box of books from Sharu Delilkan’s car, she’s the production manager, and the reason I'm here. These books have been donated by people all over the city for the set of Educating Rita, after its short season they'll be donated to Variety.
“The whole crew’s here today,” says Adey, “so you can meet them.”
He gestures towards a slightly dusty lobby area,
“That’s the main entrance, but we’ll go the back way.”
I follow him down a narrow jib-board corridor, at the end of which is a room packed with even more books; the discarded and unloved hardbacks of Auckland. Adey and Sharu have been collecting them for weeks, today’s load comes from the Shore. I peer through the curtain and see two actors sitting on the stage. We walk toward them. I am introduced.
They are George Henare and Jodie Hillock.
I am unprepared for this. I mean, I’ve seen the press release, I know who they are, but suddenly standing in front of two actors from my two favourite plays of the year (Awatea and Tribes) is a little bit too much for me. I’m star struck and surprised, and gushing at them both before there is time to raise even a vague shield of eloquence. I giggle a little. Inconcievably, I blush.
Let me put the moment into context. This time last year I was spending my days explaining to skeptical people the concept behind a website I was building with my friend Allan. This year I am meeting George Henare and Jodie Hillock, and Adey Ramsel is making me a cup of tea. I should be proud, really, that this is only the second time I’ve been rendered a gibbering wreck since it all began.
The crew show me upstairs to ‘the dressing room’ – it is filled with opera books and abandoned coat hangers. This is, after all, the headquarters of the Opera Factory, a place where Kiwi opera stars are born. Jodie and Sharu unwrap their sandwiches and salad. It feels a little like high school. Jodie Hillock is wearing a beautiful Juliette Hogan dress. I would have been scared of her at school, I think, she’s proper, real-life beautiful.
The four settle down in their chairs now, waiting expectantly for me to begin my line of questioning. This is the bit where I pretend to be a journalist, only I’ve not had to pretend to be a journalist in front of George Henare and Jodie Hillock before.
“So… why Newmarket?” I begin weakly.
Adey picks up my question and runs with it (great man, that Adey). George and Jodie helpfully pitch in wherever they can. I am quite swept away by their words and their kindness. I forget to take notes, but I can remember.
We all know Newmarket for its shopping and its food, but we certainly don’t associate it with the performing arts. For a while now, Adey Ramsel has felt that there's something not quite right about this - a large, bustling neighbourhood with no culture in it? Travesty.
So he decided to start a stage company in Newmarket; a company that would produce entertaining, enjoyable, accessible theatre for anyone with “good sense and taste.” No pressure team, no pressure.
Adey discovered the Opera Factory and asked if he could use their theatre. He garnered some support from the Newmarket business association. He dreams of sell-out crowds and extended seasons, and one day even, a brand new theatre.
Who is Adey Ramsel? Fair question, friends, apparently he gets that all the time. Ramsel is a playwright and director. He studied drama in his native UK, and since then he’s pretty much done it all; pantomime, variety, comedy, writing, directing and acting. He’s a ventriloquist too.
And why Educating Rita?
Almost before this question leaps from my lips I'm bombarded with answers from all parties. It’s a classic, warm comedy. It’s never once been off the stage since premiering in London in 1980. It was immortalised in the 1983 film starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters, but the play itself is much wittier and less convoluted. It’s a comic masterpiece.
“You’ll fall in love with the words,” says George. I believe him. I’d pretty much believe anything he said though.
It’s really subtle stuff, clever and insightful. It has a wide appeal. It’s a two hander, with one set. Nice and simple, clever and quick; the perfect place for a new theatre company to begin. They burble on like this in quite a delightful way.
When Adey first read the play, years ago now, George immediately sprang to mind for the role of Frank, so that was a no-brainer. He saw Jodie in Tribes and called almost everyone she’d ever worked with in the country before asking her to read for the role of Rita. It’s clear no small amount of thought and hard work has gone into every facet of this production.
To my completely untrained eye, they seem a perfect team. They don’t even need the play; these three could sit on stage amidst the abandoned libraries of Auckland and entertain us with their easy banter. I’m certain we’d all leave smiling.
“I’m all done!” I say, after taking a few quick snaps.
“You’re kidding,” replies Adey.
I’m also not kidding when I tell you it would be a terrible mistake to miss NSC's Educating Rita at the Opera Factory; a mistake that I certainly will not be making.
Gosh I do wonder how a real journalist would have behaved though.
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